March 4, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8604

Istanbul Governor's Office Bans Anti-War Protests Amid Turkish-Syrian Fighting In Idlib; Turkish Press, NGOs Criticize Government Decision To Allow Syrian Refugees In Turkey To Go To Turkey-Greece Border

March 4, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8604

On March 3, 2020, the office of the governor of Istanbul banned anti-war protests for one week as Turkish journalists, civil society organizations, and opposition parties reacted to the Turkish government's decision to allow Syrian refugees in Turkey to try to enter Europe.

Istanbul Governor's Office Bans Anti-War Protests For One Week

On March 3, 2020, amid fighting in Idlib,[1] the Istanbul governor's office said in a statement: "Meetings and demonstration marches, press statements, opening stands, gathering signatures, leaflets, distributing brochures and similar activities that are aimed at criticizing the military operations that our Turkish Armed Forces are carrying out in Syria or with bringing an end to them are forbidden until March 10 at 11:59 pm."[2] With 15.5 million people, approximately 20% of the population of Turkey lives in Istanbul.

Protesters hold a banner that reads: "No to war!"

Opposition Party As 135,000 Syrian Refugees Reportedly Go To Turkey-Greece Border: "The AKP Has... Turned The Refugees Into A Political Vehicle And Used Them As A Weapon"

On February 28, AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik announced that the government would open the borders to allow Syrians to try to enter Europe.[3] The government decision to open the border was apparently in response to the February 27 strike. In a speech on February 29, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: "As of this morning, there were about 18,000 people at the border, but today it may reach 25 or 30 thousand. We will not shut close the border in the coming duration."[4] On March 4, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu tweeted: "The number of refugees leaving Turkish soil to go to Greece via Edirne [a Turkish city near the Turkey-Greece border] is 135,844."[5]

NGOs, civil society organizations, and journalists reacted to the move. The People's Bridge Association And Immigrant Solidarity Network, a Turkish NGO that works with refugees, said in a statement: "Random, out-of-control transits mean death more than hope for refugees... The state should right away stop seeing refugees as a threat in bartering... Those who use refugees, who are already pushed from their own places, for their military policies are responsible for the current political climate in which racism is normalized."[6] Gülsüm Ağaoğlu, who prepared a written statement on behalf of the Immigrant And Refugees Commission of the opposition HDP, wrote: "The AKP has shown once again that it has turned the refugees into a political vehicle and used them as a weapon... The government will be responsible for the possible deaths and tragedies of the refugees, which have been made into a means of blackmail and threat against the EU, on this dangerous journey."[7] The Izmir Bar Association said in a statement: "The government is using the refugee problem as a political trump-card in the strife-ridden environment. Immigration cannot be made a tool of politics."[8]

Turkish Journalists React: "Such A Humanitarian Subject Cannot Be Made A Tool Of The Political Interests Of Governments... Let's Not Forget, This Government Is Responsible For Everything That Has Happened"

Emin Çölaşan, in the daily Sözcü, doubted the number of refugees that Interior Minister Soylu said were going to the Turkey-Greece border. Çölaşan wrote: "I wonder from where the interior minister got this number, who counted and how? I'll tell you. There is no such number, known or unknown. It is certainly fictitious. For that reason, excuse me but the number given was just to save the day. To fall into such situations does not suit the Republic of Turkey... Such a humanitarian subject cannot be made a tool of the political interests of governments. Because this concerns the security of the lives and property of tens of thousands of people." Commenting on the absence of reports of refugees going to the Turkey-Bulgaria border, Çölaşan wrote: "Also Bulgaria is backed by Russia. Our guys were afraid for that reason and did not send anyone to the border with Bulgaria... Our guys targeted Greece, with whom we have problems, and directed crowds of migrants only toward the border and islands of Greece... The journey of thousands, tens of thousands of refugee migrants to the border began with taxis and buses from Istanbul... There is news of deaths from the events that have resulted... Driving those crowds to the border did not suit Turkey at all. Okay, the millions of people coming to Turkey from Syria and the other countries have caused us trouble, we have spent a lot of money on them. No one is denying that. But let's not forget, this government is responsible for everything that has happened."[9]

Writer Necati Doğru, also in Sozcü, wrote: "Tayyip Erdoğan's vision, statesmanship, foreign policy, internal propaganda, his prediction of becoming the new caliph of the Arab world, his strategy of fighting fire with fire is failing, and has failed... The Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Africans who want to go to Europe are actually not people 'whose lives are in danger in Turkey.' They find jobs in Turkey's cities, they work, they are looked after, their children go to schools. They are not hungry."[10] Writer İsmail Saymaz tweeted: "If we said: 'May the Syrians leave,' we said let them return to their homeland in an honorable, safe way that suits a human. We did not say 'let them be driven with their boots into the Aegean Sea, into the farms of Thrace."[11] Writer Mehmet Altan tweeted: "The mind of a state that fills up free buses with poor refugees and bringing them to the border so that they will go to Europe! For what? For bartering, for blackmail. The result of leaving diplomacy to the townsmen from the municipal governments and the party organization."[12] Turkish columnist Güven Gürkan Öztan wrote in a column titled "Blackmail Becoming Normal, Death Becoming Ordinary" that "for the border to be opened and refugees to be dragged on a journey whose end is unclear is proof that there are no more options in terms of foreign policy."[13]


[1] Fighting in Idlib, Syria, between the Turkish military and Turkish-backed jihadis on one side and the Syrian military on the other has been escalating over the past month. Following a Syrian strike on February 27 that killed 34 Turkish soldiers, the Turkish military increased its attacks on Syrian targets, and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar later referred to these actions as part of Operation Spring Shield. On March 2, Akar said that "two warplanes belonging to the [Syrian] regime, two drones, eight helicopters, 135 tanks, five air-defense sytems, 86 artillery/howitzer/multiple rocket launchers, 16 anti-tank [weapons]/mortars, 77 armored vehicles, nine munitions depots, and 2,557 regime elements and soldiers have been neutralized." Turkey's Defense Ministry website lists 160 Turkish soldiers killed since February 2019. Seventy of them were killed in the first two months of 2020, during which most of the fighting in Idlib has taken place., March 1, 2020;, March 2, 2020;, accessed March 4, 2020.

[2], March 3, 2020.

[3], February 28, 2020.

[4],863858, February 29, 2020.

[5], March 4, 2020.

[6], February 29, 2020.

[7], February 29, 2020.

[8], March 1, 2020.

[9], March 4, 2020.

[10], March 4, 2020.

[11], March 1, 2020.

[12], February 28, 2020.

[13], March 2, 2020.


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