As Turkey persists with its cross-border operations, a recent interview with far-right leader Ümit Özdağ on the presidential run-off negotiations between his electoral bloc and the ruling People’s Alliance provides further confirmation of the government’s settlement plans in northern Syria, including new construction initiatives.
In the interview published in Monday’s edition of the daily Sözcü, Özdağ revealed that he had engaged in discussions with both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) before the second round of the election. While agreement was reached with the AKP on various constitutional conditions that Özdağ presented, the issue of repatriating asylum seekers remained a point of disagreement.
The AKP rejected Özdağ’s proposal to repatriate the 13 million asylum seekers in Turkey within a year, and expressed the intention to build settlements in northern Syria for one million refugees, but this was met with opposition from Özdağ’s Victory Party.
Since 2016, Turkey has been conducting cross-border operations, bombing with drones and implementing construction projects to weaken the autonomous administration developed by Kurdish-led local forces in North and East Syria.
Last week, it was reported that Turkey would construct 50 four-storey buildings in the Afrin (Efrîn) region of northern Syria, which has been under Turkish control since 2018. There are plans for an additional 200 housing units to be built in the near future. These projects have raised concerns about the long-term consequences for Afrin and its original inhabitants, as they go towards solidifying the demographic changes initiated by the Turkish offensive in 2018 which led to the displacement of many Kurds.
In a statement it released on 8 June after its first meeting following the May elections, Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) cited concerns regarding border security and national security as justification for the country’s controversial cross-border operations. The statement was then criticised by Tülay Hatimoğulları, the Green Left Party MP for Adana, due to the lack of any sign of a peaceful and democratic resolution to the Kurdish issue.
Özdağ’s far-right bloc Ata Alliance candidate Sinan Oğan had received five percent of the vote in the first round. Oğan himself declared his support for incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the second round while Özdağ opted for the opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who agreed to his conditions.