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What the Gezi Park Protesters Think of Erdogan’s Syria Policy

As anti-government protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park continued into their third weekend, a Syrian Turk, a riot policeman, a Kurd and others in the disputed strip shared their views on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Syria policy and how it’s shaped their views of the Turkish government.

Written by Fabien Tepper Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Elif, 24, is a student of Discourse Studies in London. She left her studies and returned home to Istanbul for 10 days to support the Gezi Park resistance movement:

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“There’s a huge rage since the Reyhanli bombings, which are mostly related to the exterior politics of Erdogan in Syria. We’ve received refugees, and this is fine with the public. But he also received guerrillas, and it’s said that he trained them – you can find the proof of that in the media. There is a difference between receiving refugees and training guerrillas. For me, it then becomes direct interference in Syria’s politics.So yeah, this is an accumulation of Reyhanli, as well as other stuff: ecological movements, the privatization of public resources, conservative actions, and many others.

I think Erdogan isn’t successful in any of those issues because he doesn’t behave transparently with his people. He denies that he trains guerrillas, doesn’t even mention it. And a couple of years ago he was not against Assad, but now he’s against him and blames him for being a tyrannical leader. I’m not really sure how our government can benefit by Assad leaving, but it might be related to the Sunni and Alevi sects of Islam – that a Sunni union is being sought within the Middle East. So maybe Syria is seen as an obstacle.

I do think that the media and ministers should be careful about not directing hatred towards Syrian refugees, because they’re people suffering from the war and no one can blame them. I think Turkey should receive them. But from another perspective, Turkey doesn’t receive economic support from other countries for their sheltering or feeding them, or for their medical needs. If everyone is keen on receiving the refugees, maybe international financial support could be handed to Turkey.

Umut, 28, is a riot policeman who came to Gezi Park while off duty to visit family members:

<img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-7060″ alt=”DSC03392″ src=”http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/DSC03392-225×300.jpg” width=”225″ height=”300″ />I think Erdogan should stop everything he does about Syria. He has to send away these immigrants, I think, the people running from Syria. We don’t want them here. I think they are traitors to their country.

I personally think that every country’s problem is their problem, not ours. They have to fix their problems personally, not with the influence of another country. We shouldn’t go there and do anything. As you know in Syria there is Sharia law, and I think it’s wrong. I want every country and every woman to be free, but it is not my problem, and I don’t talk about it or do anything. If something has to be done, it has to be done by the people of that country, and no one else should get involved.

Muhammed al-Mahmoud, 24, is an Arabic–Turkish interpreter from Aleppo who lives in Istanbul. He returns to Syria several times a month to deliver donated medicines from Syrian–American groups that support the revolution. He is an active member of the Syrian Democratic parliament, a coalition that is independent of both the Assad government and the Muslim Brotherhood:

[Erdogan] always tells lies about Syria. He arranged some border policies, but he always changes them. He has tried to take some areas from Syria, and I think Syrians are furious about it. They ask him, where is your red line? Your first one was in Hama, and the next one in Aleppo? And now where is your next one, in Ankara or in Istanbul?

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He’s always saying that he’s with the opposition, but he’s just been giving food, medicine, this kind of stuff. And he told us that the borders are open for Syrians, but they’re not. I cross the borders all the time, every week or two, and I can see how many Syrians are waiting on the other side of the borders to come to Turkey. Sometimes they’re waiting six months.

Servet, 26, is a teaching student in Istanbul and is originally from a Kurdish village in the eastern part of Turkey. His right forearm is in a cast as he has a broken bone from a police tear gas canister fired during the first day of the protests:

Whatever Assad is doing to his people, Erdogan is also doing the same things in the [tumultuous, Kurdish] southeast region of Turkey to Kurdish people, so there is no difference between them. Erdogan is scared because here the Kurdish people are improving themselves. In Iran they’ve improved too – not like Turkey, but better than Syria. And Syrian Kurdish people are getting organized. So, with Kurdish people living in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, maybe he’s scared that they’re going to get together.

Ali, 33, is an engineer in Istanbul who grew up in a Kurdish village near Adiama, in southeastern Turkey:

Erdogan’s main target is to attack Syria. In the last meeting with Obama, he wanted to support Assad’s opposition with guns. But Obama doesn’t want to bring Assad down with guns, he just wants to do it with politics, by bureaucracy. And this mostly depends on Kurdish politics, because many Kurdish people live in the north of Syria, and Erdogan wants to control them. Assad supports the Kurds in Syria and tells them, “If you defend your lands in Syria you will be independent.” So Turkey worries about that, because in the north of Iraq they have an independent Kurdish republic, and if Syria had a Kurdish republic, it would be a big risk in Turkey, because all of these countries border Turkey.

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There is, I think, too much information about Syria, about Assad. Because when there were spring revolutions in other states, you could see people do that. But I think the main problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood is much more violent than Assad. In the last video we had here, they killed people and ate their lungs. Such violence – how can you trust these people? Erdogan, everywhere he goes, says, “I support them,” and he wants the support of the U.N. to bring down Assad.

If Turkey really had democracy, then it could help other countries. But Turkey hasn’t got democracy. Because where are Alevi rights? Where are Kurdish rights?

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