As Turkey heads toward elections in 2023, the debate about the Syrian refugees is playing a significant role in Turkish political discourse and on social media platforms. Meanwhile, opposition parties see the problem as an opportunity to gain votes and to criticize the AKP government for its inability to handle the crisis successfully.
The following study aims to analyze the attitudes of Turkish political parties towards Syrians living in Turkey by examining the prevailing views on their presence, the issue of citizenship, employment, normalization with the Syrian regime, and their future in Turkey. It compares attitudes and motives and forecasts the future of the Syrian refugees in the case that one of the parties wins the elections. To do this official party statements made by party leaders and prominent members were reviewed as well as official websites and social media platforms.
The main conclusion of the study is that a party’s ideological background, the nature of its electoral base, and its attitude towards the AKP government play a major role in determining its position on the topic of Syrians. This is especially true because the Syrian issue in Turkey is handled by the President and his government.
The study found discrepancies between the attitudes of the electoral base and those of party leadership, which are believed to be caused by the influence of Turkish social media and the general lack of transparency regarding the problem.
Most Turkish parties agree on the need for Syrians to return to their homeland but disagree on the timing and mechanism of return. Although they collectively recognize the need for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, they hold different opinions regarding the Turkish military presence in Syria. There is also major opposition to naturalization and informal employment.
The nationalist parties are known as the hardest of the hard-liners on the issue of Syrians, most notably the Victory Party, while the conservative parties are the most moderate in this, despite their disagreement with the AKP government regarding some of the issues. The Syrian problem is expected to be among the three main talking points of the 2023 campaigns occupying a large part of election strategies, especially the issues of employment and naturalization.
The study found that the Syrian opposition is responsible to a great extent for the attitudes of some political parties in Turkey because generally its institutions have not been communicating with Turkish parties about the Syrian refugees in Turkey. This has resulted in a lack of understanding among the Turkish parties about the issues, particularly the problems of return and normalization with the regime. The study noted that the escalation of hate speech is generally linked to the economic crisis and its consequences from the cost of living and high inflation to the eagerness of opposition parties to exploit these pressures for electoral gain.
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