Arabs: Turkey's new minority

Turkey’s new Arab minority has their own unique sociological, linguistic and cultural characteristics and will raise certain demands in the future.

al-monitor A Syrian refugee looks out from a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Boynuyogun in Hatay province, June 30, 2011.  Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal.

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turkey, syrian civil war, syria, refugees, population, minority rights in turkey, minority rights, demography

Sep 12, 2014

Which is more important for Turkey: joining the coalition against the [Islamic State] or dealing with the new minority in its lap?

The question arises from the reality that Turkey today has a new minority, and this minority will raise certain demands in the future. The new minority is a community of Arabs, who, though from different countries, share sociological, linguistic and cultural similarities.

Besides its own ethnic Arab community, Turkey has been receiving Arab migrants for a century. During the two world wars, Turkey opened its doors to 1,118,000 people from the northern Levant (of Lebanese origin) and some 600,000 Arabs from northern Mesopotamia. Another 1.5 million arrived as a result of the Iran-Iraq war. This influx may have included people of Persian and Kurdish origin, but nevertheless, it was a populace that shared the same way of life and attitudes.

Minority rights

It did not stop there. More Arabs were driven to Turkey by the two Gulf wars, the Halabja massacre, Shiite oppression in post-Saddam Iraq and most recently the Arab Spring. Though some returned home later, the Arab populace that stayed in Turkey in the 1970-2000 period was close to 1.5 million, according to official figures.

Now, add to this the more than 1.5 million people who flowed in from Syria and the 60,000 babies born in the refugee camps alone. The total reaches 7 million, about 10% of Turkey’s population.

Not all of them have citizenship today, but past practices indicate they probably will.

Accordingly, this will mean new obligations for Turkey. The country will have to comply with Article 27 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, even though it put a reservation on the issue of minorities when it signed the treaty in 2000. Turkey will be obliged to ensure that those people practice their traditions, use their language and perform their religious rites in their own way.

Influx to villages

Some migrants have concentrated en masse in certain regions, while others have spread across Anatolia, which poses the essential problem.

Since last week I have been touring the [central Anatolian] cities of Kirikkale, Corum, Amasya, Sivas, Malatya, Kayseri, Nevsehir and Kirsehir, as well as a number of towns in their environs. New migrant communities — people branded wholesale as “Syrians” — are present in almost all of those cities, coming together for small talk in the evenings, sometimes at a river bank and sometimes in the corner of an urban square.

In what comes as the gravest problem, migrants have occupied lodgings in villages, orchards and farms after their owners finished the harvesting and returned to urban centers at the end of the summer season.

Though Turkey was not presented with specific demands [for contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition] at the latest NATO summit and during US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit [to Ankara on Sept. 8], it was asked to take measures to curb the movement of foreign jihadists, who are considered to be the gravest problem. [Turkey was told] that the control of jihadists returning home was as crucial as their passage through Turkey en route to joining ISIS.

I started with a question and let me conclude with another: What if the “foreign jihadists” choose to stay in Turkey rather than going back to Western countries, whose modern life can no longer mesh with their living norms? Will the core coalition deal with this problem, too?

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