OOver the past two years, numerous innocent people of the Caucasus and Central Asia in Turkey have been targeted within the police operations against ISIS, and the operations and following deportations coincided with Turkey`s rapprochement with Sino-Russian community, which implies the move away from the Western world that explicitly criticizes the legitimacy of government policies in many areas.
The international community has closely followed the ever-changing relations between Turkey and Russia over the past four years. Undoubtedly, Turkey`s downing of Russian airplane on November, 24 2015 was a turning point in the relations; Ankara and Moscow threatened one another for reciprocal repercussions.
However, a letter from Russia against Turkey at the UN changed the flow of the relationship in the opposite direction. The letter detailed the support to and trade with the ISIS from Turkey. Subsequent sanctions imposed by Russia resulted in, especially, economic concerns in Turkey. President Erdogan apologized to Vladimir Putin for the Russian jet. The relations between two countries started to improve in May and June 2016, and gained momentum after the coup attempt on July 15 in the same year. Then, Turkey has become an eager ally of Russia in the region.
Following this shift in foreign policy, Turkish government has taken a negative attitude towards the refugees from the Caucasus and Central Asia, though the policy has not drawn specific attention in the international media.
Turkey began a wide-spread crackdown in August 2016, and the police took more than 130 individuals of Uzbek origin into custody during the operations to counter terrorism in Istanbul, including children and pregnant women. Without a specific accusation, the Uzbeks were asked about their affiliation with any terrorist organization.
The Uzbek detainees were the opponents of Islam Karimov’s dictatorship, and most of them lived in Turkey for around five years. The most recent refugees had entered the country two years before their most recent detention, and many obtained a legal residency status.
Following the police operations, the community associations of the refugees in Turkey declared that the accusations were unrealistic, and lacked any legal ground. They also stated that the selection criterion for detainees was not to commit a criminal act but to be an opponent of the regime in their country of origin.
Chechen refugees were the subject of the crackdowns as well while Turkish government was making efforts to strengthen its ties with Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Sabur Ali Kujulov, one of Chechen leaders living in Turkey, was detained on December 28 2016, and then the police informed that his repatriation would be executed immediately despite an earlier court decision on his likelihood of being tortured or killed in case of deportation. However, the petitions and social-media campaigns in protest against his deportation caused the government to back down from Kujulov`s case.
Abkhazian community was also on target. The government expelled Inar Gitsba without extending his residence permit, who was in Turkey as the plenipotentiary representative of the Republic of Abkhazia. Having permitted Inar Gitsba to reside in the country since 2014, the government revoked his residency status with a short notice but without any further explanation on January 31 2017. This groundless but political reaction of the government has resulted in a growing resentment of the Abkhazia and the North Caucasus diaspora in Turkey.
In line with China`s policies against the East Turkistan Turks (Uyghurs), the arbitrary police operations against ISIS further targeted the Uyghur community in Turkey. Indeed, it was not a secret that China has wanted all Uyghurs abroad to be extradited. Abdulkadir Yapcan who lived in Istanbul since 2001 was one of the Uyghur leaders, holding also Turkish citizenship. Yapcan was an activist for independence against the Chinese invasion of Xinjiang, and police arrested him in Istanbul on the ground of a “red bulletin” that China had issued. Moreover, Turkish government later shut down “Istiklal TV”, the voice of the Uyghur Turks in Turkey.
In fact, Chinese government had requested Turkey to expel Yapcan shortly before G-20 summit in 2016, and police took him into custody while President Erdogan was in the summit for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which raised the question of whether this was a tradeoff for being accepted to Shanghai after Turkey eroded its relationships with the EU.
Targeting refugees has become more frequent after the terrorist attack to Reina Nightclub. Following the arrest of the attacker, the police initiated a country-wide operation in which they detained more than eight hundred people in different provinces.
On the government side, the investigations were against ISIS. Although the police took many alleged members of ISIS into custody, they could just seize digital documents, books, two unlicensed guns, four shotguns and 372 shells in the operations.
Unusually, no weapons and explosives could be seized from the alleged members of such a bloody terrorist organization. Not surprisingly, nearly half of the detainees were immigrants from the Central Asia, and numerous suspects have been released after the first court hearing.
In short, the mass deportation speciously began with the Uzbeks in August 2016, and reached at its peak after the Reina massacre. According to declarations from the community organizations in Turkey, nearly all these refugees were either Uyghurs or the opponents of Russia-backed governments in their countries of origin, and the courts ruled that some of them were under substantial risk of torture and death in case of repatriation.
The onset of deportations preceded the negotiations on the Shanghai Pact. Yet, the criminal justice system has not been able to provide sound evidences about the affiliation of these people with ISIS. Amidst the imploding relations with the West and the need to boost the economy in partnership with Russia and China, the current policies to target the refugees in Turkey raise a concern about the likelihood of trading innocent people in return for a good deal with a Sino-Russian community.