Last week, the public agenda in Turkey was busy three main topics.
First topic were the reactions from the governments of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the UN Security Council’s statement regarding the reopening of the town of Maras (Varosha).
Second topic was the debate over potential measures or actions in regulating the refugee waves coming from conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Third topic were the consequent terror attacks in Northern Syria and Northern Iraq, where 4 Turkish soldiers were killed and 1 injured.
Reactions from Turkey and the TRNC to the UN statement regarding the reopening of Maras
Last Monday, some areas of the former “ghost town” of Maras (Varosha) in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have been reopened to the public.
This step in Maras, following last year’s partial reopening after 47 years of the town being a restricted zone, was the second stage of a decision by the TRNC government, the TRNC Prime Minister Ersan Saner told.
Noting that the town covers an area of 5 kilometers in total, Saner said the newly opened 3.5% section includes nearly 500 parcels.
For the reopening steps, he pledged: “We will act in line with the rules of the European Court of Human Rights.”
“In this context, 337 owners applied to the Property Arrangement Commission for the total of Maras, through exchange, compensation or return conditions means,” he explained.
Maras was abandoned after a 1984 UN Security Council resolution, saying that its original inhabitants can only resettle the town.
And on last Saturday, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) condemned an “unprincipled” recent statement by the UN Security Council on the reopening of the town.
“We consider the statement made by the UN Security Council Presidency on July 23, 2021 to be an unprincipled statement meant to save the day in the face of the pressures from the Greek Cypriot side and Greece,” said a statement from the TRNC Presidency.
“With the reopening of Maras, the Turkish Cypriot side fulfills exactly the purpose stipulated by the UN Security Council resolutions and the 2020 UNSC Term Presidency statement,” it added, referring to Resolutions 550 and 789.
The statement went on to say that since the Turkish Cypriot side will open Maras exclusively to its former residents in accordance with international law, its transfer to UN administration, envisaged under UN resolutions, was now irrelevant.
The UN Security Council’s statement “ignores previous decisions” it said, condemning it as an attempt to obstruct the return of rights to their claimants in the Maras region.
Speaking earlier in the day, Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar said Maras, “had to be opened to humanity,” after having remained closed for 47 years.
On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has also rejected the UN Security Council’s statement as well as “unfounded claims” of several countries on the reopening of Maras in Turkish Cyprus.
“We reject the Presidential Statement made by the UN Security Council on the second phase of the Maras initiative, announced by the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Mr. Ersin Tatar, on 20 July 2021. We also reject the statements from various countries which are based on unfounded claims and inconsistent with the realities on the Island,” the ministry said in a statement.
“These statements are based on Greek-Greek Cypriot black propaganda and groundless claims, such as that Maras is not TRNC territory, that the TRNC will confiscate the properties in Maras and bring settlers there against the property rights,” it added.
Noting that Maras is part of Turkish Cyprus, it underlined that the city “has not been opened to settlement and was declared as a military zone as a good will gesture by the TRNC authorities.”
Turkey assured that all decisions taken by the TRNC authorities “respect the property rights and are in full compliance with international law.”
“Contrary to claims, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions are not violated,” the ministry said.
For its part, the Foreign Ministry of TRNC also slammed the UN Security Council (UNSC) statement, saying the decision to use the public areas and to remove the military status of a certain part of the fenced-off area of Maras is “in line with international law and also aims to protect the rights of the property owners.”
“The wording of the statement of the UNSC Presidency on the ‘reopening of the part of the fenced-off area of Varosha’ is misleading,” it said, adding: “The TRNC Council of Ministers has not made a decision for the reopening of the said area removed from military status.”
“It is regrettable for UNSC to make a statement based on the groundless claims by the Greek Cypriot side concerning the ‘resettlement’ of the fenced-off areas of Maras/Varosha,” it also noted.
Debate over potential measures against refugee waves from Syria and Afghanistan
In the recent weeks, Turkish social media has shown images of hundreds of mostly young men of Syrian or Afghan origin following mountain paths across the border into Turkey.
Many said that this Afghan exodus was spurred by the Taliban’s advance as the United States withdraws its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years.
These images circulating through the social media have sparked some intense debates over the refugee crisis in the country.
While Turkey’s commitment to these refugees has drawn praise from the European countries, which were protected by a 2016 refugee deal with Ankara, the hostility towards these migrants increases among the local Turkish population.
According to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, around four million refugees, mostly Syrians, currently live in Turkey. An estimated 200,000 Afghans make up the second-largest group.
Earlier this month, the governor’s office in the eastern Van province stated that more than 27,000 people, not all of them Afghans, were intercepted crossing the border since the start of the year.
Afghan migrants often intend to seek refuge in Turkish metropolitan cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, where they can work in the grey economy to earn money to get to Europe.
In a July 18th tweet written in English, the main opposition party CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu shared his “call to the world” in which he said no one could “declare my country an open prison to refugees”.
Kilicdaroglu has also said in a viral video message last weekend that his government would send the Syrian refugees back to their home country in two years.
“We will repair our relations with the Syrian government and send an ambassador to Damascus,” Kilicdaroglu said. “I will get funding from the EU countries to build schools and businesses for Syrians.”
Kilicdaroglu denied that his plan to send nearly 3.7 million refugees who fled the civil war since 2011 back to Syria was racist. Yet he repeated the line that Turkish workers were unhappy because Syrians were crowding them out.
“Syrians are our relatives. However, I believe they will be much happier if they live in the land they were born,” he said.
And following the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s remarks that “states like Turkey… are definitely a better place for refugees than Austria, Germany or Sweden,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a condemnation statement saying “Turkey will not take a new wave of migration. Turkey will not be a border guard or a refugee camp for the EU.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the contrary, declared on Wednesday that his government would not return Syrian refugees back to the areas controlled by Assad government as long as he is in power.
“As long as we are in power, we wouldn’t throw any of God’s subjects to the laps of the murderers,” he told a group of journalists who accompanied him on a visit to Northern Cyprus. “I’m very clear. They have taken refuge with us. They beg for safety. We cannot tell them to go back to where they were.”
Erdogan’s remarks were an explicit response to Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
In response to these comments, Erdogan also said that what Kilicdaroglu proposed would be a violation of international law because it would be forced deportation.
Last Friday, social media footage that showed dozens of Afghans freely running into Turkish territories from the Iranian border triggered a public backlash.
The minister of interior first rejected the authenticity of the footage, but then a local governor’s office announced that it had detained nearly 1,500 Afghans who were in the province of Van.
A public campaign by the Turkish anti-refugee social media users ensued. Many accounts placed an oval mark on their profile picture with Turkish flags that read: “I don’t want refugees in my country. Stop the silent invasion.”
Many social media users denied that their campaign was racist, since asking for better border protection and the return of migrants were rational demands.
Terror attacks against the Turkish Army in Northern Iraq and Syria
Two separate terror attacks were conducted this week, against the Turkish Army in Northern Iraq and Syria.
Two Turkish soldiers were killed and one terrorist was neutralized in clashes with terrorists in northern Iraq, Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
Another soldier, who was injured in clashes in the operation zone, was transferred to a nearby hospital, the ministry said in a statement.
Clashes broke out during search operations carried out by the Turkish army in the Hakurk region, it said.
Another terror attack broke out this time in northern Syria against an armored vehicle carrying troops, in which at least two Turkish soldiers were killed and two other injured, according to a statement on Saturday.
“In an attack carried out by terrorists against our ‘Kirpi’ armored vehicle in the Operation Euphrates Shield zone, two of our fellow hero soldiers were martyred and two of our friends were injured,” the Ministry of National Defense said on Twitter.
After the attack, terror targets in the region were immediately determined and stuck, the ministry said, adding that they were “hit effectively.” It added that “punitive shots” against terrorists’ positions continue.
The vehicle carrying the troops was in transit to a base in the area, according to a separate statement by the ministry, which said the injured were “immediately” rushed to the hospital.
Turkey has neutralized 15 PKK terrorists since the killings of its soldiers in Northern Iraq and Syria, the country’s national defense minister said.
“We believe that this number will increase in the coming days,” Hulusi Akar told reporters on Monday during his visit to military posts in the southeastern Gaziantep province near border with Syria.
Nearly 18,300 terrorists have been neutralized since July 2015, Akar said, while 1,581 terrorists have been neutralized so far this year in cross-border operations in northern Iraq.
“Whether it is east or west of the Euphrates (river), our fight continues and will continue,” Akar said.
There is no difference between the YPG and the PKK, he said, adding: “We expect our allies to open their eyes and see this.”
Akar, along with Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler and Land Forces Commander Gen. Ümit Dündar, visited the 2nd Army Forward Command Post and the 6th Mechanized Infantry Division Main Command Post, where the troops in the north of Syria are dispatched and administered.