Turkey

The Best Thing Turkey Has Done In A While

Turkey's fraught relationship with Europe and the U.S. should be bolstered by its impressive response to the refugee crisis in neighboring Syria. But now will the West step up?

Syrian girls playing jump rope in Tarlabasi, Istanbul
Syrian girls playing jump rope in Tarlabasi, Istanbul
Stefan Kornelius

-Commentary-

MUNICH – With little public fanfare, Turkey is currently in the process of seeing through quite a humanitarian and political feat. Some 1.5 million Syrian refugees have crossed its border and are either living in camps or have made their way through the countryside to the cities. In Istanbul, they beg on the streets. But on the whole, refugees in Turkey are looked after with devotion and at high cost to government administrations. Most of all, they are accepted and adopted on a human level.

Now Turkish leaders are admonishing the rest of the world, and particularly Europeans, for a lack of willingness to help. And indeed help is shamefully inconspicuous. While the European Commission just made the grand gesture of approving a further 215 million euros for the Syrian crisis region, only 50 million flows directly for humanitarian aid, and a fraction of that to Turkey.

This behavior is noteworthy because Turkey is an ally accorded the highest strategic importance in NATO, but also with regard to all European Union programs. The stability of Turkey, its political and military vulnerability and its influence in the region — whether on Russia or its Muslim neighbors — is of the highest relevance. So why isn't this being discussed?

(Photo : © Hans Van Rhoon/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA)

Contradictions and commuters

There are always reasons. The years since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected prime minister have divided Turkey and its allies. The EU membership process is just that — a process. Turkey doesn't want to join the Union, and the EU doesn't want to accept it. Erdogan's influence on other Muslim states is erratic and lacks transparency.

Turkey has to fight major contradictions where its approach to the war in Syria is concerned. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became an enemy. The rebels were overwhelmed by terrorist militias, yet Turkey itself is allegedly one of the major recruiting countries for the Islamists.

In any case, Turkey has become a transit country for international terrorist "commuters" — who can cross back and forth across borders at any time. But if Ankara sides too much with one faction or the other, it becomes an easy target. If Erdogan strengthens the Kurds, then he's bound to help usher in the separatist problem.

All of these are well-founded concerns that mean Turkey would really prefer to deal with the refugee problem on its own. But it won't go well. That is why Erdogan's speech to the UN General Assembly must be understood as an invitation to get involved.

Turkey needs money? That shouldn't be a hindrance, but money alone isn't enough. NATO should talk openly with its most important allies about the security of alliance borders. The EU can not only change its refugee policy, but must take the lead with Turkey about controlling the jihad "commuters."

Turkey has to know now that it has allies. Otherwise, the allies are going to have to live with the charge that they let the country down — and, perhaps, lost it to the enemies.

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