On 18 December, H.E. Mr. Ahmet Bülent Meriç, Ambassador of Turkey to Japan, visited UNU Headquarters and delivered a lecture that offered a unique perspective into the current conflicts in the Middle East, with valuable insight into the historical, political and cultural contexts from Turkey’s geopolitical vantage point.
Ambassador Meriç’s lecture began with an introduction to the particular geographical and historical complexities that have shaped the Middle East region over the centuries, laying the ground for prolonged regional unrest with conflicts between Israel and Palestine and the recent Arab Spring movements.
The focus of the lecture then shifted to the ongoing Syrian conflict as fertile ground for several of the region’s crises, namely the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the burgeoning displacement of civilians from Syria to neighbouring countries. Ambassador Meriç asserted Turkey’s opposition to ISIS, emphasizing that their ideology did not reflect that of Turkey’s moderate Islamic tradition, and that the group represented a threat to Turkey’s security considering its borders with Iraq. The Ambassador commented on the mass influx of refugees from war-torn Syria and areas targeted by ISIS, describing it as a humanitarian catastrophe with no end in sight.
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey has become host to approximately two million Syrians, including almost 220,000 refugees who inhabit 22 refugee camps spread across the country, causing unprecedented economic strain and social instability in the country. The population of refugees in Turkey has risen exponentially with the deterioration of security in Iraq and is only expected to increase as regional unrest becomes more entrenched.
The Ambassador concluded his lecture by welcoming questions from audience members, elaborating on issues related to Turkey’s national security and the wider implications of the refugee situation for the Middle East region.