Turkey announced on Thursday it was beginning “settlement construction” in areas occupied illegally in northern Syria. Turkey invaded in Syria beginning in 2016 in a series of operations that culminated in an attack on Kurdish forces in January 2018 and October 2019, forcing more than 300,000 Kurds from their homes in Afrin in eastern Syria. Now Turkey wants to build settlements for mostly Sunni Arab Syrians that have fled other parts of Syria to Turkey.
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In the first six months of 2020, we aim to reopen the Basra and Mosul consulates and plan to open new consulates in Najaf and Kirkuk – President Erdogan
TRT World Now
We have started to work on settlement construction between Syria’s Ras al Ayn and Tal Abyad, where we can settle hundreds of thousands of people, while other places along Turkey-Syria border can house a million people – President Erdogan
Turkey’s pro-government TRT World reported on Thursday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “we have started to work on settlement construction between syria’s Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, where can settle hundreds of thousands of people, while other places along the Turkey-Syria border can house a million people.” Up to four million Syrians now live in Turkey, many of them having fled war with the Assad regime. They come from areas around Aleppo, Homs, Hama and other areas.
Turkey wants to settle mostly Arab Syrian refugees in Kurdish areas of Syria, rather than in areas around Jarabulus which Turkey also occupied. The concept in Turkey is to create a belt of settlements along the border where Kurds and other minorities once lived, and turn them into a pro-Turkey series of housing developments that will both be a buffer for Turkey and also help to foster loyalty among the Syrian refugees who are concerned about their future.
Turkey has promised since it took over the Kurdish region of Afrin to settle these millions of refugees somewhere. It sought to move some to Afrin after 160,000 Kurds fled, but was unable to actually build them homes when Syrian rebel militias took over Afrin. Now in the area Turkey took over in October 2019, when the US withdrew from parts of northern Syria, Ankara says it will build “settlements.” Ankara has promised a multi-billion dollar program, expropriating private land and building towns and cities in northern Syria. This would be a project on a scale unseen in recent human history in the Middle East, requiring massive engineering projects and highways and public parks. It’s unclear how Turkey plans to do this since Turkey doesn’t have unlimited resources and it’s unclear how Turkey will legally expropriate the land that it occupied illegally in Syria. US officials have privately warned that Turkey’s invasion of Syria in October 2019 was a form of ethnic cleansing and that undisciplined Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups looted and caused human rights violations by killing civilians.
Now Turkey has shipped thousands of these Syrian rebels to Libya so that they are out of the way so it can begin settlement expansion. Turkey links its settlements in Syria to its new Libya maritime deal, according to Erdogan’s speech. He says that Turkey will now drill for gas off Libya and conduct seismic surveys with is Oruc Reis vessel. Turkey also warns other countries that they cannot pass a pipeline through the area it claims off Libya, a clear warning to Greece and Israel and Cyprus. Turkey has exploited the weakness of the embattled Tripoli-based Libyan government to sign a deal for water rights, knowing that most of Libya is controlled by a second government run by Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey’s current leadership is one of the most vociferous critics of Israel’s policies in the West Bank but Ankara appears to be building settlements of its own now in illegally occupied Syrian territory. Unlike in the West Bank though there are no UN special rapporteurs or a UN refugee camps for Kurds helping them receive their right of return to areas occupied by Turkey. Turkey’s main hurdle will be to see if its constant promises of helping millions of Syrians move to the new settlements will be mostly rhetoric or if towns and cities will actually be built by Turkey in Syria. So far Turkey has not shown an ability to build towns and cities in Syria, despite years of occupying areas around Jarabulus. This is why many observers see Turkey’s real goal as demographic change and cynical attempts to exploit ethnic divisions in Syria between Arabs and Kurds to create animosity and force Syrian refugees to be dependent on Turkey’s promises.