"Refugees are above all a deterrent for Erdogan"

Interview. A specialist in the Mediterranean world, Dorothée Schmid heads the Contemporary Turkey and Middle East program at the French Institute for International Relations. She notably wrote Turkey in 100 questions (Tallandier, 2017). She recalls the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, where some 3.5 million people live, including 900,000 displaced. Today, Recep Tayyip Erdogan overcomes the urgency of a duty of assistance and hopes to obtain the displacement of civilians to the Turkish-controlled areas to the north and northeast.

What does Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hope with his blackmail of migrants?

Since the start of the Syrian war, the refugee issue has been managed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a political as well as an economic asset. And first of all vis-à-vis the European Union. The Turkish authorities had negotiated in 2016 with Brussels a migration pact committing to combating the passage of migrants to Greece in exchange in particular for aid of 6 billion euros. Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens Europe again with influx "Millions" refugees. There is certainly a part of gesticulation. However, its goal now is to free itself from this burden which is deemed increasingly unsustainable by its own population. He therefore wants to involve the Europeans in the crisis, but he also knows that he would lose while putting his threat into effect opening a major crisis with the Union. Refugees are above all a deterrent for Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Is this headlong rush a sign of increasing isolation?

Turkey wants to show that it no longer needs to be accompanied: it has become autonomous with the Syrian crisis, where it claims to defend its interests first. Since 2011, Ankara has been asking for the establishment of a security zone in northern Syria to protect its border, which it would guarantee as part of an international operation. Paris had supported this idea for a while, but neither the Obama administration nor the other Europeans had followed it. The question arises today in different terms. Thanks to its Russian ally, the Damascus regime has won the war and wants to recapture the whole of Syria: the Turkish presence in three points of the territory is badly experienced. The confrontation with Turkey seemed inevitable and is now open.

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Ankara's other priority was to prevent the creation of a Syrian Kurdish entity linked to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), the Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey; however, the Syrian Kurds were, on the ground, the essential allies of the West in the fight against Daesh. After the 2016 coup attempt, in which Westerners showed very cautious support for Erdogan, the Russians became de facto an alternative ally. Antagonism with the West is consumed. On the other hand, how can the new confrontation with the Russians be digested? That’s the whole question. These successive turns can only worry Turkish opinion.


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