Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of his intention to resettle millions of Syrian refugees in what he calls a "safe zone" under discussion between Turkey and the United States. The UAE newspaper The National released in English reported on Erdogan's plan and its threat to the region.
This is not the first time Erdogan has announced these resettlement plans, said Dr. Simon Waldman, an expert on contemporary Turkish history. Although the United States and Europe seemed silent on the issue, they should be very concerned.
Waldman cites Erdogan as saying that he wants either additional European funding to continue hosting Syrian refugees in Turkey or supporting his resettlement plan in "safe areas," or else he would "open the doors" for refugees to enter Europe.
According to Waldman, the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey has become a political responsibility of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), where Turkey has been exposed to the most serious economic crisis in decades, and widespread dissatisfaction across the country with the 3.6 million Syrian refugees, resulting in violence erupts.
The expert noted that the Astana talks and the largely ended Geneva process have not only failed to find a solution to the situation in Idlib, as evidenced by last week's summit in Ankara, but have fueled the fire and contributed to the ongoing assault on Idlib, as well as the hostile environment. In Turkey, the number of refugees wishing to make the treacherous journey across the Aegean from Turkey to Greece and then elsewhere in Europe has increased significantly.
Although the last thing Europe wants is another refugee crisis, the bells must be rung in regard to Erdogan's idea of resettling millions of refugees in the so-called “safe zone”.
Waldman says there is already a precedent. In recent weeks, there have been credible reports that hundreds of Syrians have been arrested and taken on a bus journey 1,000 miles from Istanbul to Syria. Turkey is estimated to have resettled more than 300,000 Syrian refugees in Afrin and other occupied parts of Syria.
"The Erdogan resettlement plan is not a humanitarian effort to resolve the refugee crisis. It is not only an attempt to empty the refugees from Turkey, but also to radically change the Kurdish nature of this part of Syria," Waldman insists.
"Tampering the delicate ethnic and demographic balance of Kurdish areas in Syria dates back to the dark days of the Baathist rule. During the 1960s and 1970s, the regime incited a policy of Arab resettlement in Kurdish areas in the north, especially in areas near the Turkish border east of the Euphrates. Many Kurds were denied the nationality, while others considered "unregistered people." This deprived them of the right to property and thousands were displaced. However, far from leading to stability, these policies have only led to generations of resentment and anger.
He says the ethnic cleansing that has taken place across the Turkish border in Iraq must never be forgotten. "The Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages between 1975 and 1989, especially during the height of the Anfal campaign of genocide. He had a policy of settling Arabs in formerly Kurdish -populated areas, in an attempt to eradicate Kurdish identity."
An expert on contemporary Turkish history explains that Turkey itself has attempted to change the demographic balance in Kurdish areas. During the 1920s and 1930s, successive Turkish authorities changed the composition of the southeast by sending Turks to the Kurdish areas. During the 1990s, during the height of the war with the PKK, thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed, displacing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Kurds, but the conflict continues.
"As a partner in building a 'safe zone', Washington needs to be clear that it will not be part of any demographic manipulation policy, so Brussels “the EU”, Pederson and the United Nations must reject this plan as well," as Waldman warned of tampering with a region's demographics that will lead to more violence and untold suffering.
Dr. Simon Waldman, an expert on contemporary Turkish history, concludes that since Erdogan has linked his resettlement ideas to the possibility of millions of refugees entering Europe, Brussels and European capitals need to make it clear that they will not tolerate any attempt to change the demographic balance in the region. If not, it would be embarrassing for the founding principle of EU foreign policy to "resolve disputes and promote international understanding" and be another example of European inactivity in doing the right thing, even at its doorstep.