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  • Turkey's Syrian refugees face local hostility as economic problems mount
    Turkey is in the grip of an economic crisis. Last year the Turkish lira plummeted nearly 35 percent, resulting in surging prices and rising poverty. The country's deepening financial woes are prompting concerns it could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. Pain and fear stalk one of Istanbul's main food markets. A year of financial currency turmoil has brought with it soaring inflation, predicted to rise to over thirty percent and beyond in the coming weeks. 'Prices keep rising' Fruit and vegetable seller Veysel, who only wants to be identified only by his first name, tries to drum up trade for his fresh oranges and lemons. But most customers just look on and Veysel says he fears prices will keep going up. "Prices keep rising, like the increase on the price of the plastic bags we use, or on the produce we buy from wholesalers," Veysel says. "Then we have to include this price increase on our produce; we have to reflect it on some of the goods we sell, we have no choice," he adds. One of Veysel's customers, who didn't want to be identified, says she's battling to survive. "I no longer have buying power. I am saving whatever cash I have," she said. "Now the prices are incredibly high; I am not buying anything that I don't need immediately. "Because one cannot see the future, one cannot guess what the price of bread or other foods will be next month. During the pandemic, we at least had some hope; now, no one has any hope," the customer adds. 4 million refugees are vulnerable As Turkey's economic pain deepens with rising prices and growing poverty, the country's four million refugees, mainly Syrian, could be vulnerable. A recent opinion poll found a majority of those polled want the refugees to leave. Pollster Can Selcuki of the Istanbul Economics Research says their findings found anti-Syrian sentiments especially high among Turkish youth.  "Seventy-five percent didn't agree Syrians contribute to society whereas 61 percent agreed or definitely agreed with the statement that a more harsh stance should be taken by security forces towards the Syrian refugees," said Selcuki.  "I think one reason is that the influx of the Syrian refugees were very poorly managed. "We don't talk about the Syrian entrepreneurs that establish a connection with the wider Arab world and Turkish firms. Or we don't talk about the young kid who got the highest point in the high school entrance exam last year who was of Syrian origin. The bad examples are always much more than the good examples," he added. Ankara violence Animosity spilled into violence in August when Syrian refugee homes and shops were attacked in the capital Ankara. A series of social media videos by Syrians apparently mocking the inability of Turkish people to afford bananas caused outrage, prompting authorities to detain those responsible for the videos, who now face deportation. Atilla Yesilada, an analyst with Global Source Partners, warns social tensions over refugees can only rise as the economic crisis in Turkey deepens. "I think it's going to get worse. That's a very common social phenomenon observed everywhere. When things are well, refugees are tolerated," he said. "But when economic stress rises, people always look for scapegoats, and who are better scapegoats than minorities? And in Turkey, in the western part, the minority happens to be the refugees because they are very easy to identify. And, as I said, even the smallest friction can explode into something massive." Arab tourism Animosity towards Arab refugees comes to the fore as Turkey's crucial tourism industry is increasingly dependent on tourists from the Arab world. Istanbul's historic shopping street Istiklal used to be filled with European tourists, but now most stay away from popular destinations like Istanbul due to Covid-19 restrictions, which blocked or restricted travel to Turkey until recently. So now Istiklal Street is filled with Arabs from across the Middle East. Sunglasses and watch shop owner Guclu Sahin says Arab tourists are now vital to his shop's survival. "Eighty percent of the tourists are from the Middle east. The economy went down for local customers, and we've been losing customers every day, and I can say I have changed totally my business to Arab customers," said Guclu. Arab tourism is a valuable source of precious hard currency for Turkey. But that could be at risk if animosity against Arab refugees escalates to wider anti-Arab sentiments.
  • Turkey’s ambitions in the Caucasus strain relations with Iran
    Turkey's highly publicised arrest of alleged Iranian agents is the latest sign of growing tensions between the two neighbors, as Turkey expands its influence in the Caucasus region at Iran's expense. In October, Turkish security forces claimed to have arrested several Iranian agents who Ankara says were attempting to kidnap an Iranian dissident in the city of Van close to the Iranian border. Video of the arrests was widely distributed to the media, causing embarassment for Tehran.  The incident comes as Iran and Turkey are in a mounting power struggle in the Caucasus. Turkish and Israeli military hardware were vital to Azerbaijan's forces' ouster of the Armenian army last year from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave - a conflict that redrew the balance of power in the region at Iran's expense.  "Now the Israeli-Azerbaijani ties are closer ... there is a new geopolitical reality in the south Caucasus in which Iran's role has been downsized," said Galip Dalay of the London-based Chatham House, "In contrast, the Turkish role has increased, and Russia has asserted its primacy; all of them are the factors that very much make Iran unhappy," added Dalay.  Pressure on Azerbaijan Iran is now pushing back along with stepping up diplomatic efforts. Iran's foreign minister held talks with his Armenian counterpart In October. While the same month, Tehran flexed its military muscles carrying out army exercises, for the first time in decades, on the Azeri border. "Now, Iran is putting pressure on Azerbaijan," said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Director of the German Marshall Fund office in Ankara. "Diplomatic ties between Iran, Armenia, and Russia regarding the Caucasus are getting closer. Iran is organizing, is holding military exercises right next to its border with Azerbaijan. So, it can be said that there is tension in the region that will be durable in the long run," added Unluhisarcikli. Iran's hardball tactics However, Iran's hardball tactics may have backfired, only strengthening Turkey's hand in the region. In a show of support, the Turkish military held joint exercises with Azeri forces close to the Iranian border after Tehran's show of force, underscoring some analysts say how important Ankara is to Baku. "Definitely, definitely Turkey became much more important for Azerbaijan for the Azeris perception of its own security after the Iranian drills on its border," claims Zaur Gasimov, an expert on the Caucasus at Germany's Bonn University.  "Definitely, Turkey is among the benefices of the situation after the Iranian military drills," added Gasimov. "So I would say the cooperation between Ankara and Baku became much more essential at least for Baku." Turkey's deepening military ties with Iran's eastern neighbor Pakistan also adds to Tehran's unease, says Gasimov, by stoking sectarian tensions. Turkey and Pakistan are Sunni Muslim countries and Iran is Shia.   "Tehran observes the deepening of the cooperation in security and military between Pakistan and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and Azerbaijan and Pakistan, with concern, because the perception of the dynamics of regional politics in the greater Middle East takes place in Iran within the framework of sectarianism and the Shia perception," Gasimov said. "So in Iran's world view, the cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey is the cooperation between two Sunni societies. So this perceive this as a threat, this is a very important issue for the Iranian clergy," But Iran's crisis-ridden economy depends on trade with Turkey, which analysts say, allows Ankara to take a robust stance against Tehran.
  • Climate change: The impact of intense winters on Gaza olive production
    In the Gaza Strip, farmers, customers, and traders of olives lament the sharp decline of olive production this season. The reason for the decline, according to experts, is climate change and high temperatures during the winter.  Less productivity across the coastal territory has impacted Gaza's economy, which has already gone through an Israel-imposed blockade for more than a decade, now. Olives and olive oil constitute an important form of nutrition for Gaza's 2.2 million residents. They have also made life a bit easier for many thousands of families in Gaza.
  • Turkey steps up threats against Syrian Kurdish forces after car bombing
    Turkey is threatening to launch a military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces after a deadly attack in Syrian territory where Turkish forces are present. Last month's deadly car bombing in the Turkish-controlled Syrian Afrin region saw Ankara blaming the Syrian Kurdish group YPG. Turkish forces, along with Syrian rebels, ousted the YPG from the area three years ago. The Kurdish group has been waging a guerrilla campaign against the Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies.  But in an address to the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had reached his limit. "The latest attacks against our police and the aggressions against our country were the last drop. We will take the necessary measures to solve this issue as soon as possible," Erdogan said. Turkey accuses the YPG of having links to Kurdish separatists the PKK fighting in Turkish territory since the 1980s. But the YPG denies any links to the PKK.  Erdogan says Turkish forces and Syrian rebels backed by Turkey will seek to oust the YPG from the strategic town of Tell Rifaat. Ankara believes that is the launchpad of the Kurdish group's attacks against Turkish forces in Syria.  Russian presence But Russian forces control Tell Rifaat, along with the airspace. "If Tell Riffaat will be the focus of the operation, Russian cooperation, or let's say Russian facilitation, would be of utmost importance because Russia has air dominance in the area," said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, head of George Marshall Fund office in Ankara. "Because the area of Tell Rifaat is not close to the Turkish border, and any operation would be very difficult without Russian approval."  Ankara has long sought Tell Rifaat, as it would link the three areas of Syria under Turkish military control. But the Syrian town is a vital transportation hub and close to Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo.  Moscow is predicted to be wary of giving Ankara such a valuable prize.  "I think Russia is at least resisting it [Turkish military operation], but everything is possible," said Galip Dalay, associate fellow at Chatham House in London. "Russia will drive a hard bargain, and at the end of this hard bargain, this process will involve many give-and-takes," Dalay added. "If Russia thinks it will get something significant in return, then yes, it's a possibility; in the end, let's not forget, two out of three Turkish operations into Syria were facilitated by Russia."  Elections The United States backs the YPG in its war against the Islamic State group. Thus, any Turkish operation against the Kurdish group could further strain already complicated relations between Turkey and the US.  But Turkey is to hold presidential elections by 2023, and that could factor into Erdogan's calculations. "Erdogan is in an election year, and the central bank reserves are empty," said Aydin Selcen, a columnist for the Duvar News portal. "Either the diplomatic and the real cost of any move or any new military operation in Syria will be considered as exorbitant," added Selcen. "Or maybe such a story will be needed in this election year as a propaganda tool."  Erdogan rarely makes empty threats, given Turkish forces have already carried out three primary Syrian military operations. Still, this latest proposed operation could prove to be the Turkish president's biggest gamble.
  • Turkey fears another Syrian refugee crisis as Damascus ramps up attacks against Idlib
    Turkey fears another exodus of Syrian refugees as Damascus, backed by Russia, is ramping up attacks against Idlib, the last Syrian rebel enclave. A Turkish military force stands in the way of Syrian troops that are poised to seize Idlib, a move Ankara fears could result in millions of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Russian-backed Syrian regime forces are stepping up their attacks on Idlib with artillery and airstrikes. Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is pledging to retake the rebel-controlled enclave, home to around four million people, many refugees from across Syria.  For now, Turkish armed forces in Idlib stand in the way of Assad's goal. But analysts warn they are in an increasingly precarious position.  Risk of conflict  "The Turkish government put itself and the Turkish government under this situation, a kind of horns of the dilemma," said Haldun Solmazturk, a retired Turkish army general, now an analyst with the 21st Century Turkey Institute.  "Now they are so closely engaged, they are many risks involved—the risk of direct conflict with Syrian forces, involving even Russian armed forces elements. Risk of conflict with those so-called Idlib emirates controlling the Idlib area," added Solmazturk.  Last year, 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib in an airstrike that Ankara blamed on the Syrian air force. However, many observers believe the sophisticated attack was carried out by Russian planes.  Turkey's military presence in Idlib is part of a deal struck between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. But Moscow accuses Ankara of failing to honor the agreement to purge Idlib of radical jihadist groups along with heavy weaponry.  Turkey and Idlib Turkey recently reinforced its military presence in Idlib. But the main Turkish opposition CHP Party is warning any Idlib attack threatens a humanitarian disaster.   "When the civilian population feels that such an attack is coming from the Syrian army, supported by the Russian air force. Then the civilians will probably try to find refuge moving towards the north," warned Unal Cevikoz, a CHP member of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee. "And that, of course, will cause a new migration wave, and it could place serious pressure on the Turkish border. That is the main security risk we are facing," Cevikoz added.   Turkey says it is already hosting nearly five million refugees who fled the Syrian civil war. However, the possibility of another wave of refugees is spurring the main opposition parties to call on Ankara to open talks with Damascus, a move Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out.  Instead, Erdogan is looking to his relationship with Putin. Analysts suggest Putin benefits from the current tensions over Idlib.  "After six years of interlude, Bashar Al Assad suddenly rushed to Moscow in the middle of the night like a month ago and had a one-on-one meeting with Putin,' observed Aydin Selcen is a columnist with the Duvar News portal.  "And right after that, Erdogan went to (meet Putin) at Sochi(Russian Sea resort)," Selcen continued, "So in a way, Putin shows that he is the kingmaker, that he can both push Erdogan and Basar Al Assad in the interests of Russia and Russia only."  For that reason, some experts predict Putin may broker another compromise over Idlib, ensuring Russia retains its leverage over both Ankara and Damascus.



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