Recently, there has been a rise in unrest in Turkey, a country which borders war- torn Syria and Iraq.
According to the UN refugee agency, Turkey has taken in the most refugees from Syria, estimated at over 2m and rapidly rising, placing strain on infrastructure and economy. After spending nearly $7bn on humanitarian aid, and faced with providing healthcare, housing and education for more people, Turkey missed their growth target by 2%.
This is all at a time where European countries on the whole have taken a hostile approach to the idea of accommodating refugees thus leaving Turkey with little choice but to bear the brunt of the crisis. President Erdogan has been vocal on the issue, recently meeting with Angela Merkel, where it was agreed that his country would curb the flow of migrants to Europe in return for Merkel supporting the Turkish bid for EU membership, seen effectively as a ‘bribe’ by many.
In addition, one must not forget that Turkey also has to deal with the root causes of the refugee crisis, namely the Syrian civil war and the Islamic State (IS) in both Syria and Iraq. The near open- door refugee policy has led to concerns that extremist organisations are able to infiltrate and carry out attacks.
Earlier this month, Ankara witnessed one of the deadliest attacks in Turkish history, where over 100 people were killed while attending a peace rally. It is widely believed to have been as a result of IS, with President Erdogan also implicating the neighbouring Assad regime and the Kurds in the attack.
One of the most pressing issues is the internal disputes which ravage the country. Deep divisions exist between supporters of the ruling AKP party, led by President Erdogan, and the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which represents the country’s Kurds. Outbreaks of violence have been common ever since Turkey became a nation state. This trend is unlikely to change in the future unless the status quo is altered.
A two- year ceasefire was recently brought to an end after 33 people were killed at a pro-Kurdish rally, leading to airstrikes and intense skirmishes, meaning the government can bomb Kurdish targets under the proviso of assisting the anti-IS coalition, deceptively protecting itself from criticism by claiming to also hit IS targets.
According to Professor Oktem of the University of Graz, Turkish policy is “to pretend that it is waging a war against IS, while at the same time following up on another goal, which is to destroy the PKK,” and their actions undoubtedly reflect this motive despite some limited airstrikes on IS targets.
Turkey is increasingly unstable on several fronts, the West would do well to heed the warning signs and devote more attention to Turkey. An increasingly autocratic President, whose aim is to change the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one, is causing division. In addition, external agents like IS are doing their best to increase already acute polarisation within the country.
More scrutiny and attention from Western media, combined with pressure and perhaps even intervention from Western governments would help to ease tensions and put Turkey back on a more prosperous and stable path, as currently the country’s very existence is on the brink.