Türkiye'nin en iyi köşe yazarları en güzel köşe yazıları ile Hürriyet'te! Usta yazarlar ve gündemi değerlendiren köşe yazılarını takip edin.

World Refugee Day

Saturday, June 20, is World Refugee Day, the day for people probably in the worst condition. It is the day for those who have no place to go, the poorest of the poor, whom we hear of only when they drown in the seas or die of no air in truck containers. Two stories about them.

Recently, the return home of approximately 12,000 Kurds from Turkey who were living in the village of Mahmur near the northern Iraqi city of Arbil was on the agenda again.

Residents of Mahmur are from the southeastern Turkish provinces of Siirt, Şırnak and Hakkari. When they were caught in the middle of fire between 1992 and 1994, they took refuge in Iraq. First they were placed in the Atrush camp and in Mahmur after 1999.

The people’s assembly of 45 residents in Mahmur and the town council consisting of three women and 12 men govern Mahmur. The municipal council is elected on a yearly basis. Services and infrastructure works are achieved with funds provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, and Kurdistan Regional Government. In schools built by the UNHCR, 100 volunteer teachers serve 3,500 students. Courses are in Kurdish. Turkish, like English, is taught as a second language. Some high school graduates continue higher education at Salahaddin University in Arbil.

One of the specialties people in Mahmur have is their ability to fatten up sheep by natural methods. Thanks to their ancient know-how, they are popular in the region. With these, one can say that they are doing better in Mahmur than in Turkey. But the lack of security in Iraq and longing at some point make this comfort meaningless.

The return of residents in Mahmur was brought to the agenda first time in 2004 in a reformist atmosphere. As a result of talks among Turkey, the interim Iraqi government and the UNHCR with the supervision of United States, the parties reached an agreement. But the document was never signed and put into force. In these meetings, Turkish-Kurds living in Mahmur were given guarantees of not to be punished upon return. However, they were not promised neither for education in Kurdish nor financial aid for living. Closing Mahmur camp and return of refugees were discussed in bilateral talks between Başer and Ralston in 2007.

For the purpose, an arm search was conducted under U.S. and UNHCR’s observation by security forces of Baghdad and Kurdistan region. It appeared in the end that there is neither outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party presence, or PKK, nor weapons in the camp. Afterwards, a census was carried out and refugee identity cards were distributed. Only thing left was to fill out the forms for "voluntary repatriation" in accordance with international law. Behind the wheeling and dealing of recent days, something totally different is going on.

Apparently, the military and civilian bureaucracy is considering closing down Mahmur as part of eradicating the PKK. In other words, the radical approach in solving the Kurdish problem actually has never changed.

A solution to the Mahmur camp agreeable by all parties is a solid and meaningful test for Turkey’s Kurdish policy. The solution is of importance in terms of taking care of Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin but also in humanitarian and political terms.

’They Had Faith in Turkey’ exhibition

Since the beginning of April, an exhibition has been on display in various venues in Istanbul about European and Asian kings, princes and groups of people who were granted asylum in the Ottoman Empire and in Turkey. "They Had Faith in Turkey" is the name of this amateur activity held under the auspices of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The exhibition was on display in various countries before.

I think the aim is to let the entire world know that this land embraces refugees and has welcomed kings and administrators since ancient times, when they were in trouble. I should, however, add "as every land and every state does." Since human history is the history of wars, it is also of mass displacements. There always were countless people migrating from their own land. States have always protected the enemies of their enemies, looked for ways to use them as trump cards, by granting them asylum. Those who were welcomed by the Ottomans equal to those who fled from the Ottomans.

Likewise, those who were forced to leave were attractive for states pursuing population engineering. Population, especially if skillful, is valuable. After the Spanish reconquista, 180,000 Jews kicked out by Catholic Spaniards were brought to Thessaloniki and Istanbul by Ottoman Sultan Beyazıd.

The reason was competition with the Catholic world but also the aim to repopulate large areas with skilled, urban Jews. And this, of course, even if it’s a petty calculation, saved Jews from extinction.

We see a continuation of the Ottoman policy, which went down in the history as a "historic Jewish friendship," in the Republican period. Although the same pragmatic approach is seen in the establishment of the university by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, thanks to European Jewish professors fleeing Nazism, the latter survived thanks to this policy.

During the Holocaust, some Turkish diplomats in Europe rescued European Jews by obeying solely their own consciences, not as the application of an official policy.

We notice this in the ill treatment of some other Jews who directly took refuge in Turkey during the war.

Frankly, the attitude stuck between political calculations and tolerance in the Ottoman and early Republic periods is of no importance anymore considering the outrageous treatment refugees are subjected to today in Turkey.

It is difficult to say that Turkey is consistent about international law and its own obligations. Indeed refugee law and its implementation can hardly go beyond the "They Had Faith in Turkey" exhibition.