12 September 2017

A Barrel of Oil or the Life of a Person?

The solution in Myanmar is possible with inclusive governance. The painful events in Arakan show how important the constructive role of the state is in reconciling society.

The recent painful events in Arakan have deeply upset us all. Due to the ongoing conflicts in different parts of the world including Myanmar, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan, people live in absolute misery. The global order is becoming increasingly incapable of producing solutions to problems.

Settled in the Rakhine region in the west of Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims live economically, socially and culturally excluded. With the law adopted in 1982, the right of citizenship was taken from the Rohingyas and the United Nations defined them as one of the most persecuted stateless groups in the world. Rohingya Muslims are not granted citizenship in Myanmar on the grounds that they are of Bangladeshi origin, while Bangladesh denies them due to the economic and social problems. Being stuck between the two countries, Rohingyas are forced to live in camps near the Bangladeshi border. As violence increases, the number of refugees in the camps increases too. Although the population of Rohingya people is not known, it is estimated to be over 1 million and equal to 2 percent of Myanmar's population, which is around 54 million. Since last year, according to a U.N. report, more than 100,000 Rohingyas have fled their homes and arrived at asylum camps on the Bangladeshi border.

With the withdrawal of Western countries after the occupation, the pressure on Rohingyas became worse in 1962 when the military government came into power. Economic sanctions, pressure on religious conversion, the removal of Muslim public servants from office, illegal arrests, forced migration, restriction of social rights such as marriage and child possession are just some of the oppressive policies imposed.

The tension in Rakhine has its roots in the 1940s with small incidents of violence, and it has occasionally reached the level of ethnic and faith-based slaughter. Now, there is a need for strong leadership from the state for a permanent solution. According to 2015 World Bank data, 40 percent of the country lives near the poverty line and per capita income is around $1,200. Besides the economic bottleneck, the country politically had lived under militarist pressure for nearly 50 years and its influence has not been wiped out yet.

The National League for Democracy Party and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who came to power in 2011, want to remove the country from the bottleneck and put the country into a peaceful development process. Recognizing the need for social consensus for it, the government of Myanmar announced the U.N. Resolution Package (Annan Report) on the Arakan issue, supported as well by Rohingyas on Aug. 24.

The package contains significant issues such as the distribution of economic resources fairly between the federal and state governments in Rakhine, payment of compensation to Rohingyas who lost their land, the granting of citizenship status, and related rights. A day after the package was announced, simultaneous attacks broke out at border police stations in Rakhine, following which, the violent militarist interventions against the Rohingya people began. In fact, it is highly questionable that the timing of the attacks on the police stations happened after the announcement of the U.N. report that supports the solution in Rakhine. In other words, when constructive steps are taken for social peace in Myanmar, a different set of mechanisms are put in place to weaken the civilian leadership and to raise the social tension.

When carefully examined it is clear that hope for stabilization in Myanmar is undermined by the attacks by so-called "religious" terrorist groups, just like in Africa via Boko Haram and al-Shabab, in Pakistan via Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, and in Turkey via the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Naturally in this process, civilians suffer the most.

Every step taken by Turkey for stability is to stop interventions such as terrorist attacks and assassinations, the coup attempts via jurisdiction on Dec. 17-25, the July 15 coup attempt by FETÖ and international media disinformation campaigns. But all of these attacks, especially those in the last 15 years of Turkey's political history, have become a kind of school that educates our country. With this bitter experience, Turkey is now mature enough to see and respond well to what people are doing in different geographies.

To see the crisis in Rakhine as the local problem of Myanmar does not complete the puzzle. From the global perspective, Myanmar is the "pearl of South Asia" and it is stuck between great powers due to its geostrategic position, the precious uranium sources, the rich oil and natural gas deposits. The economic potential of the country attracts the attention of international companies. The region of the Rakhine state where oil and natural gas is abundant and Muslims live is the field of competition of the great powers to establish permanent dominance. Therefore, the events that occurred in the Rohingya towns with the "created terrorist groups" cannot be considered apart from the struggle between the great powers to access rich natural resources. In this regard, it should also be noticed that the security news that is presented internationally as the failure of the Myanmar government is somehow manipulated by the support of the diaspora and by the former army members.

Today there are some illegal structures that leak into every country to besiege the whole world. Being integrated with different global interest groups, they try to influence who will stay politically in power in every region and who will go. If the political leaders do not act in line with the interests of these groups, they are interfered with via political and economic crises, and military and judicial coups. If these do not work, they try to overthrow the leaders with terrorist attacks, various conflicts and instabilities. While this is the situation, even at the highest international official meetings, the issues are held superficially by disregarding the aforementioned structures. Worse than this, the international mainstream media also contributes to the process in a way that some regions are always on the global agenda with various clashes, terror and massacres. With the chaos in these regions such as Libya, Afghanistan, Arakan and Somalia that have rich natural resources and a strategic location, people are forced to migrate, and the region is evacuated by local elements. This facilitates the use of resources in those regions, not by the country itself for its people, but by the companies from the great powers in cooperation with some local interest groups. The interventions that started with the Iraq War, and continued with the Syrian Crisis in order to end so-called terrorism are all similar reflections of this struggle. In addition, keeping human rights discourse and humanitarian crises on the global agenda can also be used as a legitimate intervention means for the implicit interests of the great powers. In this sense, it should better be questioned whether the intervention of the great powers in the humanitarian crises are really for the sake of victims and capacity building in the fragile countries or for other purposes.

Terrorism does not solve the problems

Turkey has suffered a lot from terrorism and still fights terrorist organizations such as FETÖ, the PKK and Daesh, both at a national and global level. Our country rejects marginal and violence-oriented movements in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and South Asia and in other geographies. Simply, these radical movements prevent the development of countries, and do not serve the rights of civilians. Desired consequences in protecting the victims can only be achieved with a sincere and humanitarian stance. To this end, Turkey does its utmost to contribute to the development efforts and combatting terrorism in line with global targets. The biggest reflection of this effort is that for the last three years, Turkey has been the most generous country in the world with regard to the ratio of humanitarian aid to national income, and it hosts the most asylum seekers in the world. Moreover, having committed $200 million per year to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with the goal of "zero hunger" in 2011, Turkey has so far provided $1.8 billion of official development assistance (ODA). Thus, Turkey contributes to the formation of a balance in the world by taking care of the problems of LDCs, while it is a G20 member.

Turkey also supports Myanmar in becoming a stable country that produces prosperity for all its people. To this end, it has taken important diplomatic steps, especially after 2010. The Turkish embassy was opened in Myanmar in 2012, and with high-level visits, a positive process began between the two countries. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), the official development cooperation agency of Turkey, also started its activities in Myanmar in 2012 and the Yangon Office was opened in 2016. TİKA develops projects in the areas of agriculture, education, health, vocational training, water and sanitation, and humanitarian aid for the people of Myanmar without any ethnic and religious discrimination. In the last five years, a total of $14 million has been spent on projects. In cooperation with the Myanmar government, assistance has been provided to Rohingya Muslims who live in poor conditions in the Rakhine region. TİKA has become the only foreign organization that was allowed to enter the Rakhine region during Ramadan and to help 15,000 families.

While most aid organizations are not allowed, the accession of Turkey to the region via TİKA is also a result of the effective humanitarian diplomacy of Turkey, beside the confidence of the Myanmar government. Following the recent events in Arakan, Turkey again acted quickly. In particular, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current term president of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called 20 state leaders to act urgently. Erdoğan also talked to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a resolution of the conflict. As a result, TİKA was approved by the Myanmar government to help the region as the first foreign organization. In the first stage, approximately 300,000 people are provided with assistance in Bangladesh and Myanmar. In this period of time, Turkey First Lady Emine Erdoğan and accompanying delegation visited Cox's Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh border, and they directly delivered aid to Rohingyas in need. In the following stages, a total of at least 100,000 families and about 500,000 people are targeted for assistance. In the face of the world's insensitivity, it seems that there is no other leader who acts proactively for Arakan as President Erdoğan does.

The solution is possible with inclusive governance

The painful events in Arakan show how important the constructive role of the state is in reconciling society. None of the hostility, ethnic and cultural conflicts bring peace and security to any country. On the contrary, each wasted resource prevents the construction of a more prosperous future. Since the Myanmar state represents all its people, it should stick to the development of inclusive policies.

For any local problem, the permanent solution does not come from the outside or by the militarist interference, because a strong reconciliation and prosperity can only be achieved with Myanmar's own endeavor by encompassing all ethnic and religious groups. Moreover, the radical activities of some groups cannot be attributed to all civilians and cannot be excused for the deprivation of rights. That is to say, innocent civilians should be distinguished from the externally supported illegal organizations that force the oppressed masses to radicalize and join terrorist activities. Otherwise, it is not far away to add a new one to the fragile countries as it is in Libya and Yemen.

On the other hand, it is necessary to know that the civilian government of Myanmar that replaced the military regime of nearly 50 years is also very new. Like any country that had an authoritarian junta regime, the Myanmar government will also want to get rid of its residue, and to put the country on a development path with a model of a people-oriented approach. The country tested it on Aug. 24. The next step would be to maintain the process without covering up the problems.

Moreover, rather than sentimentality and fanaticism, reasonable action plays a crucial role in finding solutions to the crisis in Rakhine. Irresponsible false sharing and news that fuel the anger, and exploit the feeling of pity, further deepens the problem. It is also necessary to refrain from getting into a wholesale criticism against Buddhism and Buddhists. To think in empathy, when terrorist incidents happen in Europe, the identification of Islam with terror and the raise of Islamophobia bother all Muslims. Therefore, instead of provoking anger, negotiation channels should always be strengthened. 

*Article by Dr. Serdar Çam – President of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, published on

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