Geopolitics

Along The Turkey-Syria Border, Erdogan's Own Are Turning Against Him

In the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, anger is rising against Prime Minister Erdogan's support of Syrian rebels.

Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border
Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border
Benjamin Barthe

REYHANLI Nearly a week after the two car-bomb attacks rocked this sleepy town, the people of Reyhanli, in southern Turkey, are still burying their dead.

In this Hatay Province town, near the border with Syria, three more bodies have just been found under the rubble, bringing the death toll from the May 11 attack to 51. Little by little, grief and despondency are being replaced by anger.

This exclusively Sunni town is definitely no bastion of resistance to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ruling conservative Islamic party. But now, the people of Reyhanli are holding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accountable for their situation -– accusing him of dragging their country into civil war by being assertive towards Bashar El-Assad and allowing Syrian rebels to set up bases in Turkey.

The Turkish government’s official version of events – which blames local pro-Assad Arab Alawite fundamentalists for the massacre – is hard to swallow. So are the repeated speeches by Erdogan exempting the Syrian refugees and rebels – who have settled in Reyhanli by the thousands – from any responsibility. The people of Reyhanli resent Erdogan for this stance.

“Why hasn’t Erdogan come to see us?” asks Hussein angrily, behind the counter of his grocery store. His shop is located a few meters away from the town hall, where the first bomb exploded. “He opens the border to everyone and thinks we are going to stay safe? He lets in all these people wearing galabiya Islamic robes and beards down to their feet – a reference to the jihadists fighting in Syria – and he thinks we are going to believe that Turkish people bombed us?”

The second bombing occurred next to the post office. Cahit Seyhan is up on a stepladder, fixing the false ceiling of his pharmacy. He also believes that the government tried to save face by blaming the bombings on supporters of the Syrian regime. “It could very well be Jabhat al-Nusra,” he argues, accusing one of the most famous jihadist groups leading the fight against Assad.

These reactions are emblematic of how the local population is anxious and worried about being the object of a new intimidation campaign – whoever the attacker may be. Merjimek, an insurance broker, warns: “Erdogan must stop playing with fire. He must force both sides to negotiate and find a compromise. Otherwise, there will be other explosions.”

The revolt against Erdogan’s stance on Syria is also born out of social frustration. Reyhanli’s lower classes do not always approve of these refugees, who are sometimes wealthy, who sometimes start businesses in the city, and whose mass influx has driven real-estate prices to an all-time high. “They are opening more shops than we are, can you imagine?” says Hussein the grocer.

“AKP, USA, killers!”

This despondency can also be felt in the provincial capital of Antakya, known as Antioch in ancient times. Since the bombing, a very heterogeneous crowd made of left-wing militants, social workers, artists and students, has been gathering everyday in front of the bazaar. They have different religious beliefs – Sunni, Alawite and Christian – reflecting the variety in the city’s religious and ethnic mosaic. For Ghaleb Redwan, one of the demonstration’s organizers, “Hatay – another Turkish name for Antakya – is a very tolerant city, where people do not care about their neighbor’s religious belief, and we want to keep it that way. We do not mind welcoming Syrian refugees, as long as it does not threaten our own security.”

On Tuesday, fierce slogans could be heard during the demonstration – “AKP, USA, killers!” – revealing the anti-imperialistic views of a great number participants. Some of them are – more or less admittedly – supporters of the Syrian regime, especially the Alawite Arabs, who belong to the same Shia community as the Assad clan.

Some of them are also nostalgic of a time when the Hatay Province was part of Syria – the territory was under French command after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and only became part of Turkey in 1939.

Sheikh Ali Yeral, an Alawite leader in Hatay Province, believes “The Erdogan government’s stance on Syria is enslaved to American and Israeli interests in the region. Its goal is to carve up the Arab states into a multitude of small states, to weaken them in front of Israel.”

This political uprising has not gone unnoticed by the Turkish opposition. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the social-democratic People’s Republican Party – the AKP’s main opponent – travelled to Reyhanli to present his condolences, and then went to Antakya, where he made a more political speech.

Before flying to Washington to meet President Obama, Erdogan declared: “We are the first victims of the Syrian crisis in the region. We cannot just stand by watching what’s happening.”

If Erdogan does not look inclined to change his policy on Syria, it is because he knows that Hatay Province – because of its unique history and location – is an isolated case. Even if there have been a few demonstrations here and there, the rest of the country has not reacted as fiercely.

Still, the government remains prudent. Authorities have banned TV channels from images of victims of the attack. This censorship does not come as a surprise. Local and presidential elections are scheduled for 2014, and Erdogan has a lot at stake.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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