Skip to main content

Selçuk Ünal is ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada.

The region surrounding Turkey is passing through a time of turmoil and transformation. Due to historical, cultural and social links, Turkey cannot remain and has not remained idle amid developments and humanitarian tragedies on its borders. From the outset of the transformation process, our country has taken a principled decision to stand by the democratic and legitimate aspirations of peoples of the region.

Today, developments in Syria and Iraq are directly affecting national security in many other places. Turkey's own borders with these two countries total 1,295 kilometres long. Syria's conflict and Iraq's political instability have created a power vacuum and provided the grounds for extremist groups like the Islamic State.

The conflict is not limited to the rise of extremism, however. A lasting solution will requite a broader reading of the situation. The threat should be handled with a comprehensive strategy.

Calls for Turkish military intervention without these answers are self-contradictory. People should ask what the international community was doing when a quarter of a million Syrians were massacred and more than 6.5 million people were displaced.

Turkey's own experience with terrorism is well known around the world. Turks have suffered extensively from this scourge, and remain a target for al-Qaeda and other radical terrorist organizations. That's why international co-operation constitutes the basis of Turkey's approach and why we co-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178 on foreign terrorist fighters.

A motion adopted at the Turkish Grand National Assembly gave a broad authority to our government to instruct the armed forces to take all necessary measures in the period ahead. It is a clear reflection of our determination. Any further involvement should be designed for a comprehensive strategy on the Syrian conflict, which also needs to address political and humanitarian dimensions.

Turkey has traditionally offered safe haven to all fleeing certain death in their own lands, irrespective of their race, creed, culture or language. Turks' attitude toward migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and people under temporary protection has always been one of tolerance, sympathy, hospitality and solidarity, much like Canadians.

The sheer number of foreigners who have sought refuge in Turkey over the decades, and especially today, is ample proof. As we speak, Turkey is host to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. More than 1.3 million Syrians who live outside the 22 camps are also under Turkey's protection. We have spent more than $4-billion (U.S.) caring for these refugees, plus another half-billion dollars in cross-border aid. Ironically, the contributions received so far from the international community, including resettlement figures and bilateral and multilateral capacity, is far below minimum expectations.

The Syrian conflict has recently provoked another mass flow of refugees into Turkey – 200,000 more Syrians found refuge in our country last week, most of them from border areas. Another 100,000 arrived because of the Islamic State threat.

Likewise, we have extended humanitarian assistance to Ayn al-Arab (also known as Kobani) since the first day of clashes there. Recent developments there cannot be read separately from the overall Syrian picture – a conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. As of last week, we had dispatched more than 700 trucks of humanitarian assistance to the area, worth more than $10-million (U.S.).

Despite the risks, Turkey's "open door" policy, and its assistance, will continue. I hope the world will join us.