Plan Being Drafted for Naturalized Syrians to Serve in Turkish Military

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Ankara, MINA – Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management said it is drafting a plan for naturalized Syrians to serve in the Turkish military.
Experts say the plan, which will be discussed in Parliament when it is finalized, should carefully consider social sensitivities and include additional integration tools to avoid inflaming tensions between Turks and Syrians.

Out of about 3.5 million Syrians who have taken refuge in Turkey, less than 50,000 — mainly white-collar professionals with a university education — have been considered suitable for citizenship so far. Military service is compulsory for able-bodied male Turkish citizens aged 21-41.

“Naturalization should be understood as the last step of integration policy,” Ayselin Yildiz, UNESCO chair on international migration at Izmir’s Yasar University, told Arab News.

“Not only Syrians but all foreigners can benefit from naturalization. However, we need to set well-established and planned integration criteria.”

Naturalization without integration might hinder peaceful coexistence between Turks and Syrians, Yildiz said, adding that naturalization not only brings citizenship rights but also obligations.

“Syrians who are offered Turkish citizenship might be asked to do military service in Turkey, but if they’ve already done some form of military service in Syria or another country, they might be exempt,” she said.

But “doing military service in Turkey might be a reason to lose Syrian citizenship, so Syrians might prefer not to get Turkish citizenship.”

Omar Kadkoy, a research associate at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said some 300,000 Syrians could eventually be naturalized, starting with the initial group of 50,000.

“Tensions already exist between locals and Syrians, and the idea of naturalizing Syrians doesn’t appeal to many Turks, not even among the government’s base,” he told Arab News.

Very sensitive issue requiring a unique integration process

Recently, there have been several violent incidents in various cities between locals and Syrians, revealing anti-Syrian sentiment among some segments of society.

Some relatively poor neighborhoods, where tensions have increased, are known as “little Aleppo” because they host tens of thousands of Syrians.

“Turks take great pride in serving in the military. Seeing Turks of Syrian origin, possibly speaking broken Turkish, will be a very sensitive issue that requires a unique integration process,” Kadkoy said.

Syrians who are drafted could be sent to train and serve in areas of northern Syria that the Turkish Army is trying to clear of Daesh’s presence, he added.

“It’s important in the beginning to have minimal interaction and generate gradual acceptance,” Kadkoy said.

“Plus sending Syrians to serve in northern Syria would quieten the critics of Turkey’s intervention.” (T/RS5/RS1)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)