Russians are our friends, say Turks

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Russians are their friends and their governments should not enter into war, said Turks this week after tensions between the two countries led to talks of possible conflict.

Turkey had on Tuesday fired and grounded a Russian military jet apparently carrying out air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

Turkey claimed the Russian warplane had illegally entered its airspace and ignored warnings about this, a claim Russia denied.

Russian president Vladimir Putin retaliated by forbidding his citizens from travelling to Turkey.

The Russian military also reportedly said it would respond to any future attacks on its warplanes.

Turkish citizens are meanwhile on edge, watching the news and feeling uncertain but hopeful that their countries will remain at peace with each other.

Yusuf İnanç, foreign news editor at daily Sabah newspaper’s office in Istanbul, said this week his country “does not want to fight Russia and escalate the tensions”.

“Ankara (the Turkish capital) thinks Russia’s aggression had to be responded to. Russian jets have previously violated Turkish airspace repeatedly,” said İnanç.

Russia has already retaliated though, said İnanç.

“Russian missiles in the Mediterranean Sea have threatened to down Turkish jets within Turkish airspace,” he said.

“Russia has started bombing moderate rebels and Turkish-speaking Turkmens in Syria. Turkish businessmen started having trouble in Russia.”

Turkey however depends on Russia for energy, meaning it would not seek to cut ties with it, said İnanç.

At the same time, he said, Turkey wants to “show Russia that it cannot do anything it wants in the region”.

İnanç said there have been a number of issues that contributed to tensions between his country and Russia.

“Disputes over Syria, Crimea, Armenia and the Kurdish issue have fuelled tensions between the two countries. Ankara is worried about Russia’s aggressive policies in Syria. It is backing Assad and Shiite Hezbollah,” said İnanç.

“And in Ukraine, Moscow annexed Crimea where a Turkish-speaking Muslim Tartar community lives.”

İnanç said it was likely that a proxy war could erupt instead of direct conflict between the two states.

“As long as the war in Syria does not end and the regional and international actors do not agree on a solution, the two countries will continue having more problems,” he said.

Süha Ünsal, a history lecturer at Bilkent University in Ankara, said he first heard about Tuesday’s incident “around an hour after (it happened) from my students”.

“We talked some time about the situation, but most of the students, especially male, have a heroic discourse,” said Ünsal.

He said despite this “heroic atmosphere” the “majority are afraid of armed conflict with Russia”.

“I think the majority are afraid of conflict with Russia and hope global forces such as the United States, European Union and even China will not allow the conflict turn into a clash.”

Ünsal added: “Some Turkish citizens were sent back to Turkey from Russian airports and some Turkish exports were refused entry into Russian by its customs.

“Two big Russian tour operators cancelled their tours to Turkey. This a very important impact on the Turkish economy. But the big fear is about natural gas which Turkey imported from Russia.”

Ünsal said he was “not sure if Russia and Turkey could get involved in a conflict”.

“I believe they have to find any conceivable solution as soon as possible, but I am afraid that the solution will be provisional,” he said.

Ebru Ünlü, a law student in Istanbul who has travelled extensively across Europe, said “people are scared” at the possibility of wat.

“Nobody wants war here. Russians have already been told not to not visit turkey. That would effect our economy badly,” she said.

Kadir Karakuş, a biomedical engineering student at Erciyes University in Kayseri in central Turkey, the atmosphere currently is “not really good in Turkey because people are afraid”.

“They don’t want to be in a war. They saw Syria. They don’t want to be like Syria,” he said.

“On the Internet I see that Turkish people say, ‘Don’t go to Russia. If you go there you will have too many problems’. But people from Turkey like Russian people.

“They want to have contact with them.”

Karakuş said the biggest impact would be economic as “there are many Turkish companies working in Russia”.

“If they can’t work there the economy is going to get worse. The results will be bad for us,” he said.

“I hope it will not be a big problem. Some people want us to get involved in a conflict but I don’t. We want to be happy in our country without problems. I don’t want people to die.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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