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In Turkish border region, Syria policy dents ruling party support

Levent Hocazade makes no apology for taking part in violent protests against Syrian refugees in this Turkish border province, where an influx of hundreds of thousands fleeing war has heightened competition for jobs and sent rents rocketing.

Gaziantep has long been a bastion of support for Turkey's AK Party, its small industry and agriculture flourishing over a decade of AKP rule. But four years of war in Syria have changed its demographics and stoked a sense of economic insecurity.

The Islamist-rooted AKP, founded by President Tayyip Erdogan, faces its closest national election on Sunday since it came to power in 2002.

Its Syria policy - supporting mainly Sunni Muslim fighters against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in a war that has killed a quarter of a million people and driven 8 million from their homes - has largely been absent from its campaign. But it is felt keenly here on the frontier.

"If you're living somewhere and someone came and messed up your city, what would you do," Hocazade, a 20-year old barber, said as he described taking to the streets last August after word spread of a local man murdered by a Syrian.

"People are angry at the AK Party because of what the Syrians have done here," he said.

Hocazade will vote for the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Sunday's election, which could see the AKP lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since it stormed to power in 2002. He wants Syrian refugees to remain in camps.

Turkey is hosting 1.8 million Syrians, more than any of Syria's other neighbors and one of the biggest refugee populations in a single country anywhere in the world.

It has also been one of Assad's most vociferous opponents, insisting that only his removal from power can bring peace. Ankara has enabled Syria's political opposition to organize on Turkish soil and allowed thousands of foreign fighters across its borders to join the rebel ranks.

While many Turks, including AKP supporters, are proud of their country's humanitarian response, frustrations have grown as the numbers of refugees have swollen. And there is far less public support for what many see as its aggressive political intervention in the domestic affairs of their neighbor.

"The AKP never convinced even its own constituency that its policy in Syria was justified from a national interest standpoint," said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and chairman of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.

[Source: By Dasha Afanasieva, Reuters, Gaziantep, Tur, 04Jun15]

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small logoThis document has been published on 08Jun15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.