Speakers Discussed Topics
Dr. Zahra Karimi (Iran) The situation of Syria after the defeat of ISIS
Dr. Osman Cubuk (Turkey) Roles of Kurds, Iran, and Turkey
Mr. Zanst Othman (Iraqi Kurdistan) Updates of the refugee situation in neighbouring countries
Ms. Hsin-Yu Dai (Taiwan) Prospect for peace in the region

Host:      Dr Mumin Chen
Director, Center for Studies on South Asia and the Middle East (CSSAME) &
Professor, Graduate Institute of International Politics, NCHU

Time:     Wednesday, 10:00-12:00, June 12, 2019
Venue:   Room 931, Soc

Dr. Zahra Karimi

Why is Syria so important for Iran? Because of the geo-political importance of the route to Lebanon. The one is from Iraq through Syria by land; the other one is from Tehran through Damascus by air and from Damascus to Lebanon by land.

There are two main causes of Iran’s support of Syria’s strategic interests. One, it assists long term collaboration between Iran and Syria after the Islamic revolution. Second, it is the route to Lebanese Hezbollah. (It enables Iran’s military to provide aid to Hezbollah through Damascus airport.)

But Iran is facing continuous challenges in supporting Syria’s current political environment:

1) Inability to sustain financial and military aid because of heavy US sanctions

2) Dissatisfaction among Iranian people questioning the government’s support for Syrian regime

3) Continuous tensions involving the Kurdish question and between Sunni and Shiite

4) Rouhani’s inability to redefine relations between Syria and Iran beyond the Hezbollah connection.

Mr. Zanst Othman

 How does the civil war in Syria affect the Middle East or neighboring countries?

The spill-over effect of the Syrian civil war is evident in Iraq and Iran. Iraq has not been able to stabilize since 2014. The proximity of these countries has made civil war an essential part of the Middle East and its peaceful solution is integral to the future of the region. Neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan are very concerned about the Syrian civil war.

Turkey is involved in the Syrian civil war because of the Kurdish ethnic group in Turkey, and the Kurdish people in its territory have a very good relationship with the Kurds in Syria. Iraq’s involvement in the Syrian civil war was due to strategic considerations. Israel is equally concerned about this civil war because they don’t want to have a neighboring country that is pro-Iran.

We talked about the future of Syria years ago too, and our agreement is that the future situation of Syria is unknown. The biggest problem of the civil war comes from two biggest powers (the United States and Russia).

Trump has been complaining in the media that the Syrian issue has dragged down the United States. If the United States leaves, the Kurds in Syria who control 27% of Syria’s land will cooperate with Russia (because they will be afraid of being attacked by the Turkish government who has cooperated with Russia). We will see the cessation of Syrian civil war in the future. If Russia leaves conversely, we will see a new unknown situation. Turkey’s policy attitude towards the Syrian issue is erratic. Sometimes it is willing to cooperate with the United States to deal with the Syrian issue. Sometimes it tends to Iran. And Turkey breaks down the agreement very often.

ISIS has been eliminated in Syria, but if Syria continues its civil war, ISIS-like terrorist organizations may reoccur. Regarding the Kurdish issue, Turkey doesn’t accept a peaceful solution which is to give the Kurdish autonomous region. Turkey regards the Kurds in its territory as terrorists and supports the settlement of the Kurdish issue by force. However, the Kurdish weapons are provided by the Western countries, and the Kurdish people voluntarily choose to fight for the founding of the country. They are not forced to fight. We can predict the second solution will bring more problems.

Even though the Assad government controls all of Syria’s land, its international reputation is very poor. It is a dictatorial policy of using biological and chemical weapons, and it is bound to fail to receive international aid. Syria’s reconstruction was difficult after the civil war, and it was estimated that it would cost six million dollars to rebuild Syria two years ago

Dr. Osman Cubuk

The relationship between Turkey and Syria is very changeable, sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. These are following issues surrounding both of their relations: i) The problem of Hatay province, ii) the contention with Kurdish Workers Party (designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey) and its relations with Syria iii) The water-sharing issues are also a problem for both countries as well.

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Turkey’s policy toward Syria has changed frequently. In the duration of 2011-2019, Turkey-Syria relations can be divided into three stages:

First, its decision to support Assad in the request for democratization, and Second is to change foreign policy when the government of Assad does not meet its requirements. However, it caused policy mistakes, because it did not take into account that Assad was strongly supported by the military.

Turkey believed that the Arab Spring will succeed in Syria and that Authoritarian government will fail, but the Arab Spring has failed and the system is still there. Obviously, Turkey’s policy choice was wrong. All the actors; the Turkish government, its opposition party, the United States and Russia did not expect then Syrian government to survive.

In 2013 (the third stage), when Turkey found that its policy choice was again wrong, the policy changed to focus on the refugees. Syria is very important to Turkey in terms of society, politics and economy. In the beginning, the refugees who came to Syria were called “guests”, but now they were called refugees.

Initially, The Syrian Free Army began to provide weapons and support from the United States and Turkey. Now they found that the group was too weak, so the United States turned to support the Kurdish PYD party army in northern Syria. This made Turkey angry and Turkey turned to Russia. near. If the Syrian civil war ceases, Turkey can make a profit in assisting Syria’s reconstruction. Syria currently has 3.6 million refugees in Turkey.

Ms. Hsin-Yu Dai :

With the 3.5 million refugees, Turkey has been the largest Syrian refugee area in the world for five consecutive years and is the place where Syrian refugees most want to go. The Kurdish region of Turkey is very close to the Aleppo in Syria.

Turkey is tolerant of refugee policy, providing free medical care and free education from elementary school to university. One can work locally with work vouchers but only gets half a pay compared to local people. The conditions that are not conducive to refugees are: Syrian refugees in Turkey have to renew Syrian passports and Turkish IDs which are extremely expensive. Poor families live in the old city, and rent cost them about US$ 130 a month.  They burn garbage to keep warm. Children also need to work for six days a week, more than ten hours a day as the monthly salary is only US$ 15-16.

Rich Syrian refugees live in Turkey with about US$ 646 monthly rent, and their children can go to school. Refugee couples don’t dare to have more children, and the number of children drops to one or two children.

Fayette in Istanbul has become the Syrian district, where many Syrian refugees live. Local Syrian refugees have a better life and are known as urban refugees. There are many NGOs in the area. Many refugee women live in this area, and their traditional role has transformed in such situation. Half of the total Syrian refugees are women. The NGOs work to encourage women to achieve self-empowerment and utilize women’s potentiality and patience to improve the situation in the refugee areas.

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