By Patrick Lim

Following the unanimous adoption of UN Resolution 2254, world powers will convene in Geneva in January for the latest round of Syria peace talks. Source: US Department of State

On January 25, representatives of the United States, Russia and other world powers will convene in Geneva for the latest peace talks regarding Syria. This will be the first meeting since UN Resolution 2254 that focused on creating a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, which was unanimously adopted in December. The resolution states that all parties involved will seek to support a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and to establish a “credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance [structure]” within six months and for free and fair elections, pursuant to a new constitution, to occur within 18 months. Though this resolution may appears to be the first major step towards an end to a violent civil war, the international community should be pessimistic not only about the timelines it sets forth but also about the UN’s and other world powers’ will to see it through and affect real change.

The UN has earned a bad reputation in recent years regarding inaction in Syria. The report “Failing Syria,” which was signed by numerous aid agencies, criticized the actions of states and the failure of the UN to implement previous resolutions pertaining to Syria, namely numbers 2118, 2139, 2165, 2191 and 2204. All of these resolutions except 2204 were agreed upon unanimously. Furthermore, the UN’s reputation has recently come into question because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Madaya. The town in southwest Syria, close to the border with Lebanon, was the subject of a flash update in early January, which discussed “desperate conditions” in which people were dying of starvation. Food costs rose astronomically, with rice costing as much as $256 per kilogram. There are reports that the United Nations knew about the dire situation for months but were only prompted to act when images of starving children started appearing in news outlets.

Brookings Fellow Michael O’Hanlon expressed his doubts over Kerry’s peace talks. He believes that forcing outside powers to halt arming combatants will cause Assad’s and the Islamic State’s power to solidify, simultaneously harming groups like the Kurds. Therefore, any ceasefire and formation of a new government will “not be built on the foundation of military balance. It would be built on a foundation of sand.” There would be no enforcement mechanism and no body to ensure legitimacy. Furthermore, the new “Syria” would demand high numbers of American soldiers and UN peacekeepers. O’Hanlon argues that the most realistic approach would be to establish a country with autonomous regions, with one or two for the “intermixed cities from Aleppo to Damascus.” He ends by assering that the international community should focus more on the three necessary parts he lists to ending war and finding a feasible political model, given that everyone is still under the illusion that the peace talks will achieve something.

The countries represented in the talks also casts doubts over the sincerity of these talks. In what has been described as a “rare display of unity among global powers,” a close advisor of Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said that Damascus was ready to join UN-sponsored peace talks. Moreover, there are reports that the talks could break down over a dispute regarding the Kurds. The Russians demand that PYD, the political arm of the Kurds, be invited as part of the rebel delegation, which has been opposed by Turks and other powers, as they believe the PYD is not “the real opposition.” Yet, the party that will have the most influence over the talks is another point of contention. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, was recently quoted as saying that Turkey has the right to a decisive influence over the talks because it hosts 2.5 million Syrian refugees, making it “the second largest Syrian country in the world.” He believes that the conflict is a serious domestic issue that could affect his country in the long term if the right solution is not found. The Prime Minister stated that with Assad in Damascus, no Syrian refugee will repatriate.

Therein lies another problem with Resolution 2254 and the upcoming talks; nowhere in the resolution does it mention the future of Assad. While the deposition of Assad may be a longer-term goal of the United Nations, the body has to ensure that his advisors are not able to assume positions of power too. If so, we may see a situation similar to Egypt post-Mubarak, in which the people had to choose to vote between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and former associates of Mubarak, thus forcing them to elect the former.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK

If the UN resolves the issues pertaining to representation at the talks and appeases Turkey, the pathway to peace is still not simple. It will take decades before the Syrian Civil War comes to an end: the war is not only between rebel groups and forces loyal to the governments but also terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Resolution 2254 also affirms that all “Member States [must] prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL… and [must commit] to eradicating the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria.” Again, we must be pessimist: the UN Security Council cannot expect to have a new constitution with free elections and a new government within 18 months if the terrorist groups still have a strong presence in the country. Furthermore, even if the international efforts are able to push all terrorist activity out of Syria, the Council will then have to deal with terrorism in Iraq and fear that groups could focus attacks on reclaiming Mosul. Caution must be exercised in the event that any strategies undertaken to achieve Resolution 2254 and peace in Syria may be perceived by many as further involvement of the West, inciting attacks that could take place on Western soil. Questions also have to be raised on how to tackle the groups’ ideology, which will no doubt persist in the country even if the main actors have been dismissed.

In order to achieve peace in Syria, the UN Security Council must stick to the language of the resolution: there must be a “Syrian-led political process.” While the UN may moderate, it must ensure that it does not overstep. However, it must also take steps to rebuild its reputation and ensure that the future of Syria is moving in the right direction – that is, without Assad and his regime. Without taking the proper steps, the peace talks scheduled this year are doomed, much like all previous efforts to end this bloodiest of civil wars.

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By ZongXian Eugene Ang

Turkish Coffee. Source: Justin Schler/Flickr.

“There’s a woman in a long, flowing gown waiting. You are about to meet someone who is about to change your life for the better.”

“Clouds line near the rim of your cup. But I see that they bring showers of good fortune that should revitalize your life.”

“Ah! You will have many people around you supporting you in your life’s journey. The coffee grains at the base of your cup are really concentrated.”

These were just some of the things that were said as we practiced the art of fortune-telling after drinking our Turkish coffee. I was attending a short workshop last weekend on this centuries-old tradition organized by ATA-DC, the American-Turkish Association of Washington, D.C., in the run-up to the 11th Annual Washington DC Turkish Festival that they will be hosting later this month. In a span of an hour, we were taught some basic ways to interpret the shapes of the remaining coffee grains after someone has drank his or her cup of Turkish coffee.

Indeed, drinking Turkish coffee and fortune-telling are virtually inseparable activities in Turkey. Although there are some who pursue this art of fortune-telling from coffee cups professionally, many Turks often do it casually between friends as a means—in the words of this Al-Monitor article—“to extend conversation and intimacy.” In fact, there is a Turkish proverb, “Bir fincan kahvenin 40 yıl hatırı vardır,” which can be loosely translated to mean “a single cup of coffee being worth forty years of friendship!”

The “Turkish” in Turkish coffee derives from the method of preparing the coffee, rather than the origin of the coffee beans used to make the coffee. As a matter of fact, coffee has never been grown in Turkey. The practice of coffee drinking first originated in Ethiopia, which then spread to Yemen, and subsequently throughout the Ottoman Empire. It was during the long reign of the Ottoman Empire that the specific method of preparing what is today known as Turkish coffee was perfected.

Turkish coffee is prepared first by grinding freshly roasted coffee beans into a fine powder, before mixing it with water and sugar, and then brewing the mixture slowly over a low flame. This is traditionally done in a cezve, a copper pot with a long handle. The indication of a good brew of Turkish coffee lies in the presence of foam, and many often spoon the foam directly into the cups as the coffee is slowly brewed.

In Turkish marriage custom, a prospective bride is expected to prepare and serve Turkish coffee to the groom’s family. At the same time, however, the prospective bride may also add salt instead of sugar to the groom’s coffee to gauge his reaction. If the groom does not complain, he would be deemed by the bride as good-tempered and patient, and hence, suitable for marriage.

The tiny cup of Turkish coffee has also not been immune to the vagaries of politics. Its name itself is a site where larger political tensions have manifested. For instance, in Armenia, where the memory of the mass killings of Armenians that occurred in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire still looms large, there is no Turkish coffee, only Armenian coffee—although the two coffees share essentially the same method of preparation. As the author of this Roads and Kingdoms article quipped about ordering coffee in Armenia, “I am triply careful to stress the drink’s fundamental Armenian-ness—Shat haykakan Soorj, Hayastanum, Hayastaneets (very Armenian coffee, in Armenia, from Armenia).”

In Greece, where Turkish coffee is widely consumed, the name “Turkish coffee” became heavily politicized after the Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus in 1974. What was essentially Turkish coffee acquired a new name, Greek coffee, in the upsurge of nationalism and anti-Turkish sentiments that followed Greece’s fallout with Turkey over the Cyprus issue. For one, the Greek coffee company Bravo started a successful advertising campaign titled Emeis ton leme Elliniko (We Call It Greek) following the Turkish invasion.

The name of Turkish coffee aside, the place of coffee in Ottoman society had been politicized too. As drinking coffee being increasingly popular in the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century, the ulema, the body of Muslim scholars, sought to ban coffee on the basis that it was an intoxicant prohibited by God. That said, it was more probable that the ulema felt their authority threatened by the growing spread of coffeehouses in the empire, the first of which opened in Istanbul in 1555. As Antoine Galland, a French Orientalist, wrote in an 1827 essay titled “On the Introduction of Coffee into Europe,”:

“The number of coffee-houses increasing prodigiously in Constantinople and their attractions also with the habit of frequenting them, it was soon found that the imams and expounders of the law were left to keep company with their beards, the mosques remaining nearly empty to answer in learned echoes to the declamations of the doctors. Though rigid predestinarians, it was not to be expected that these [Muslim] parsons would come readily into the notion that Providence had decreed they should preach to empty benches; on the contrary, seeing the mortifying success of their rival jugglers of the coffee-houses, they instinctively thought, as their craft always do, of the strong arm of power, and vehemently invoked its aid against the Arabian berry.”

The Ottoman authorities did ban coffeehouses on a number of occasions on the grounds that the coffeehouses encouraged not just vice and religious negligence, but more importantly, political dissension. Since coffeehouses were meeting places where men from different sections of Ottoman society could gather and exchange ideas, the authorities feared that the coffeehouses might be avenues through which political opposition to the Sultan could effectively grow and spread.

Nevertheless, given how entrenched the practice of drinking coffee was in Ottoman society, the authorities could never completely shut down the Ottoman coffeehouses. Many coffeehouses simply operated clandestinely, while at the same time, public pressure often forced the reopening of the coffeehouses after a ban.

As a testament to its enduring place in Ottoman and Turkish culture, the institution of the coffeehouse still survives today—even after the upheavals of the early 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire fell apart and the Republic of Turkey took its place. In fact, there are even Turkish coffee machines in the market today that pours the coffee, complete with foam and all, automatically into cups.

Perhaps, as you enjoy some Turkish coffee at one of the Turkish restaurants around Washington, D.C., or even better, in Turkey, you might want to think about the long history of the tiny cup of coffee in front you, within which lies the marks of broader political and social events. Indeed, many of the little things we consume in our everyday life are relics of the myriad confluences of culture and politics that have occurred through history. If you open your eyes to these histories, even the quotidian might just become so much more interesting!

By Kate Moran

Syrian Kurdish refugees entering Turkey. Source: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO).

It has been a little over a month since the fifth anniversary of the start of the Syrian civil war. Since March 2011, it’s estimated that over one million Syrians have sought asylum in Turkey. Most of them were part of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have streamed across Syria’s northern border with the country, inundating once-sleepy Turkish towns like Reyhanli. Refugee camps like Suruç, Turkey’s largest, with 35,000 residents, are bursting at the seams. More than half of Syrian refugees worldwide are under the age of 18, and thus many of Turkey’s Syrian refugee population are of school age. According to NPR, the education crisis is fueling an epidemic of early marriage, child labor and poor prospects.

Syrians are now a majority in some border towns, like Reyhanli. Although the influx of refugees into Turkey has caused a significant degree of nationalist backlash, some locals are working to bring the country’s burgeoning Syrian population into the greater social fold. Marginalization, an issue faced by refugees everywhere, is especially prominent in Turkey, where a history of cultural heterogeneity and targeted nationalism has pervaded the public and political spheres for more than a century. But marginalization can be dangerous, not just for the marginalized, but also for those who perpetuate it. Like Arab countries in the region, such as Egypt, where high youth unemployment and low educational prospects have fueled social unrest, Turkey will soon have to contend with similar issues.

Refugees left to languish without education or mobility are a threat to both Turkey’s and the region’s stability. Youth unemployment is one of the most pressing threats facing the Middle East today. Unchecked, it has the potential to perpetuate regional instability, augment militant groups’ influence, and further entrench the Middle East in its vicious cycle of economic dysfunction. Rising youth populations makes finding a solution for the region’s economic woes even more critical. Without a sustainable educational model, however, economic prospects will only worsen.

To help close the educational gap, a prominent Turkish educator, Enver Yucel, has donated $10 million to establish an accredited university system where Syrians can take coursework in Arabic, English, and Turkish. Yucel believes that breaking the cycle of exploitation, marginalization, and social inequity begins with education. Investing in refugees’ education, Yucel believes, is an investment in Turkey’s future. It will equip them will the tools necessary to be fully integrated into the social and economic fabric of the country.

180,000 child refugees in Turkey receive school supplies through UNICEF’s No Lost Generation (NLG) initiative, which promotes non-discriminatory access to quality and relevant formal and non-formal education for both refugee and vulnerable host community children. However, the Turkish university system remains largely inaccessible to young Syrians, many of whom were college-bound before the outbreak of the war. Though a significant percentage of Syrian youth are educated, language barriers prevent most of them from pursuing higher education in Turkey, which would in turn, increase their job prospects.

Like Palestinians in Jordan, Syrians in Turkey have irrevocably changed the social, linguistic, and political fabric of the country.  Whether or not Turkey wants them there, many are there to stay. Even under the best circumstances, Syria will take years to recover from the conflict, and prospects for the country’s displaced youth will remain low. Because of this, many Syrians will seek to cultivate new lives for themselves in Turkey. Generations will be born and come of age in a new place, facing the challenge of conflicted identities. They will be both Syrian and Turkish, but perhaps neither fully one nor the other.

Educational initiatives like Enver Yucel’s aren’t just humanitarian; they’re nationalist. Although many Turks resent Syrians for putting undue economic pressure on the government to support them, and for taking jobs away from locals (a common complaint in any society with large refugee/immigrant populations), the full social and economic integration of the Syrian refugees is ultimately critical to Turkey’s well-being and stability. Without such integration, the Eurasian country that has long been perceived as an island of calm in a region of chaos may descend into similar patterns of sectarian violence, religious conflict, and political dysfunction experienced by the rest of the Middle East.

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By Mason Hill

Ihsanoğlu speaks at the U.S. Islamic World Forum in 2012. Source: US-Islamic World Forum

Since clenching the Turkish Presidency and enacting constitutional reforms that made the once ceremonial position the crux of Turkish political power, President Erdoğan has once again turned Turkish politics on its head. Whereas at one time all political parties in Turkey defined themselves in reference to Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), it appears that after ten years of rule by the Justice and Peace Party (AKP), Turkish politics might be realigning. Indeed, Erdoğan’s religiously tinged populism seems to be assuming the central role that Kemalism once filled.  This is particularly evident in the electoral decline of the CHP and the nature of political opposition in Turkey today.

The 2014 Presidential election is of particular interest. Erdoğan won after beating his nearest opponent by 15 percentage points; the nature of his opposition underscored how fractured the once central Kemalist forces have become. For example, the CHP did not field its own candidate; instead, they endorsed the nationalist candidate Ekkmeledin Ihsanoğlu who is a far cry from the traditional standard bearer of secular Kemalisim. Indeed, the fact that the CHP endorsed Ekkmeledin shows how dead traditional Kemalism is in today’s Turkey. In many ways, Ihsahnoğlu’s career represents the antithesis of what it means to be a Kemalist.

Ihsahnoğlu’s own biography reads like a critique of the excess of Turkish secularism. His father, an academic, fled Turkey to teach at the al-Azhar University in Cairo. Indeed, Ihanoğlu’s father ran from Ataturk’s secularism because he was so deeply opposed to it. Furthermore, Ihsanoğlu’s own academic and diplomatic careers have had Islamist tinges to them. Not only did he make his academic career as a professional historian that specialized in the Islamic intellectual tradition, but also his highest administrative position was Secretary General of Islamic Co-operation, an organization that served somewhat as a rejection of secular and nationalist tendencies that are entailed in Kemalism.

This is not to say that Ihsonğlu has not since come to embrace elements of Kemalism. He emphasized during the campaign support for a secular state, and since losing the election he has emerged as a potential CHP candidate for parliament. Nevertheless, that he has come to be associated with the CHP shows the decay of traditional Kemalism. On the other hand, it shows that while Erdoğan has been largely successful in consolidating power, it has not been without alienating more conservative members of the cultural establishment that once supported him. Ihsanoğlu once talked about being Erdogan’s 2007 AKP Presidential candidate when the position was still largely ceremonial. Fetullah Gulen and his brand of Islam were a key part of Erdogan’s rise, but Ihsanoğlu and Gulen have since had a falling out. The sustainability of Erdogan’s coalition will be put to the test in the upcoming parliamentary elections, but his success to date has been a testament to his ability to cobble together new support as once powerful backers turn on him. Whereas the Republican People’s party was once emblematic enough of the status quo to draw ire and opposition from all who did not like the way things were in Turkey, Erdoğan’s party has now assumed that role of drawing criticism from both the left and the right. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is indicative of how much power Erdoğan has consolidated.

By Terrence Kim

In only a few months the Syrian conflict will mark its fourth anniversary, regrettably marking the continuing calamity that has distorted a once colorful and blossoming nation into the harrowed and war-stricken land that it is today. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that by the end of 2014, 6.5 of 22 million Syrians will be classified as internally displaced persons, while over 2.5 million will have fled Syria as refugees. This struggle has displaced millions of people, while claiming the lives of over 190,000. While international aid organizations invariably endeavor in the minimization of casualties, their equally meaningful objective is providing educational opportunities for Syria’s youth. As war rages on, efforts to educate and nurture the generations that will rebuild Syria must endure.

The Syrian conflict was never meant to last this long. It was supposed to be a minor inconvenience of which some government, or some deity, was to resolve so that shopkeepers could continue selling their teas and coffees and so that teachers could continue shaping their tullab (students) into the country’s future doctors, teachers, lawyers, and parents. Months turned into a year and a year turned into four. Parents, backed by confidence in their imminent return to Syria, had initially scoffed at the idea of matriculating their children into their host-country’s schools. This mindset is causing students to be out of school for so long that re-admittance into public education is no longer an option for many. International aid organizations, such as the U.N., have been campaigning continuing education efforts for students into either host-country schools or specialized programs for refugee and displaced children.

The United Nations, in partnership with international aid organizations like Save the Children and Mercy Corps, launched the No Lost Generation Initiative (NLGI) about one year ago in October 2014. No Lost Generation calls for a $1 billion investment in expanding access to learning, providing a protective environment, and broadening opportunities for children and adolescents in Syria and neighboring countries. According to a UNICEF report on the war’s impact of the conflict in Syria, almost all of Syria’s children were enrolled in school and 5% of the country’s annual GDP was spent on public education before the war; with the conflict approaching four years, almost 3 million school-aged Syrian children are no longer in school.

For the children who remained in Syria, more than 18% of schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied by displaced people or military personnel. The lack of schools and perilous environment make getting to schools a difficult, off-putting struggle. And for the refugees who sought asylum outside of Syria, host governments are struggling to accommodate not only educational needs for children, but are also adjusting political and economic policies in dealing with rising costs of basic services, food, and rents.

So what has #NoLostGeneration accomplished a year into its inception? Note: the following reflects samples of rounded data gathered from No Lost Generation’s first year report.In Syria:

  • 440,000 more children in school over the last year than the previous year
  • 46% temporary learning spaces established inside Syria
  • 32 (of 4,200) damaged schools repaired
  • 1.5 million children in 14 governorates received school supplies
  • 350,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs
  • 550 teachers received psychosocial training
  • 70,000 children have received psychosocial support
  • 27,000 children have received life skills and vocational training, remedial secondary classes, and psychosocial support

Neighboring Countries:

–  489,000 student increase in formal and non-formal enrollment in schools
–  587,000 children have received psychosocial support
–  27,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs in Jordan and Iraq

Lebanon: ‘Reaching All Children with Education’ (RACE) committed to 413,000 Syrian students for the next three years by opening second shifts in public schools

  • Targets 630 high-risk Syrian and Lebanese children formerly associated with armed parties to the conflict
  • Psychosocial support
  • Activities on conflict resolution
  • <span “font-family:wingdings;mso-fareast-font-family:wingdings;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” wingdings”=””> Vocational training
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Access to health, legal, and protection services
  • Ministry of Social Affairs established decentralized national case management system which is the first tertiary-level child protection program in the country
  • 200,000 caregivers received psychosocial training
  • Doctors and nurses received training on clinical management of sexual violence

Jordan: public schools are operating on double shifts

  • Hygiene, recreation, psychosocial, and educational programs

Turkey: progress has been made in normalizing the status of Syrian refugee teachers

  • Strengthened capacity of local child protection actors
  • Child Protection in Emergency Training

No Lost Generation Initiative is an effort to not only rebuild childhoods, but to shape futures that will restore Syria into the bourgeoning nation it used to be. There are roughly 4.3 million children in Syria affected by the conflict and more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The greatest victims of this conflict are indisputably the young and vulnerable who hold no say in any political agenda. These children are growing too old too soon. Innocence is lost as their lives are compelled into violence with Kalashnikovs forced into their hands to fight a war that is not their own. Political matters aside, the international community holds a fundamental responsibility to Syria’s vulnerable youth in promoting peace and providing aid through education initiatives. Education’s catalytic effect on children’s well-being and development may potentially be paving the path for peace, stability, and economic development.


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On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...