Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have each talked about their plans to revisit Turkey’s strained relations with the Syrian government following the presidential and parliamentary elections set for June of next year, local media reported.
The president on Thursday answered reporters’ questions during his flight back from the G20 summit in Bali, saying in response to a question about a possible meeting with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad that he could start new relations with him with a clean slate since there was no lasting resentment or quarreling in politics.
“At the moment we, as Turkey, can reconsider relations with countries with which we have difficulties. … Especially after the June election, we can start with a clean slate,” the president said.
Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), also talked about meeting with the Syrian government regarding the situation of refugees in Turkey if they come to power after the 2023 elections.
“We know that there are four to five million refugees in Turkey. The first thing to do when we come to power is to meet with the legitimate administration of Syria. We will reciprocally open our embassies,” the CHP leader said on Thursday during a speech in the southeastern province of Kilis, located near the Syrian border.
Kılıçdaroğlu said they would use the EU’s migrant funding for Turkey to build hospitals and schools in Syria in order to set up a substructure for the refugees who would be sent back.
“It is necessary to ensure the safety of life and property of the people who leave here. They should not find themselves in a war environment again,” he added.
The CHP leader noted that he believed all these plans could be realized within two years.
There are more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees officially living in Turkey. Nearly seven months from the elections, their presence in the country has become a thorny political issue, especially as Turkey battles an economic and monetary crisis.
President Erdoğan, who has in recent months said he is preparing to repatriate a million Syrian refugees on a voluntary basis, announced in early October that more than half a million Syrians who had fled their war-torn country for neighboring Turkey have returned home since 2016.
Syria’s civil war, which began with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2011, has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.