Turkish demographic engineering in Syria echoes social engineering at home - journalist

Turkey’s latest military operation in northern Syria addresses security concerns professed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but it is also part of the party’s plans to transform Turkish society, Turkish journalist Cinar Kiper wrote in an op-ed for Canadian daily the Globe and Mail.

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9, stating that it aimed to drive Kurdish-led groups it views as terrorists over 30 km south of its border with Syria.

The relationship between the Syrian Kurdish groups and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has waged an armed struggle for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since 1984, gave credence to Turkey’s professed motivations for the operation.

But the additional objective of resettling millions of Syrians in what Turkish officials call the safe zone they plan to create in northeast Syria points to a deeper ideological motivation behind the operation, Kiper said.

When ethnic Arabs occupied the homes of Kurds displaced in Turkey’s previous military operations, it raised fears in the United Nations that a concerted attempt to permanently change the ethnic composition of the area was taking place.

Kiper said the safe zone plans could be driven by the AKP’s desire to replace the left-wing and secular Kurdish inhabitants near its border with Arabs who are much closer to the Islamism of the ruling party.

This concern was underlined by comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said during a televised interview that the areas in the safe zone were geographically suitable for Arabs, but not Kurds.

An attempt to reengineer the demography across the border may mirror efforts at home to break down the secularist tradition of the Republic of Turkey and cement the place of religion in the state by amplifying nationalism, Kiper said.

“When Turkey’s founders first introduced secularism to the conservative people of Anatolia, they were able to do so because of the nationalist fervour of the Turkish War of Independence waged mostly against the Greeks,” he said.

“Now, if the future is to be pious, a similar existential threat needs to be cultivated and maintained. Which is why there can be no peaceful resolution between Ankara and the Kurds. Get people worked up over Turkishness, and they might not notice why mosques are now mobilised in support of troops or why their kids are being directed toward religious schooling whether parents want it or not.”