Erdogan approves 3 Turkish university campuses for northern Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved a request from a Turkish university to open three campuses in Turkish controlled cities of northern Syria.

Gaziantep University, located on Turkey’s shared border with Syria, applied to Turkish education authorities this year to open three faculties in Jarabulus, Al-Bab, and Afrin.

Erdogan approved the request on Thursday and logged in Turkey’s Official Gazette on Friday.

“We have ordered the opening of an Economic and Administrative Faculty in Al-Bab, Islamic Sciences Faculty in Azaz, and Education Faculty in Afrin, which are affiliated to Gaziantep University’s Presidency,” read the presidential decree.

The university opened a vocational training school in Jarabulus in October 2018.

Jarabulus and Al-Bab came under the control of the Turkish Army and its Syrian proxies during Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016. The Kurdish enclave of Afrin, meanwhile, was taken by these forces during Operation Olive Branch in March 2018.

Ali Gur, the rector of the university, told the state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA) in late May that their decision to open new campuses follows an increased demand for higher education in northern Syria.

“There was a high demand from local assemblies and provincial leaders. I went [to northern Syria] myself and saw the demand, they really need it,” Gur said. “Some 2,700 prospective students have already taken proficiency exams.”

There will also be scholarships for Syrians who were forced to leave school as a result of the conflict but decided to return, according to Gur.

The opening of the Turkish university campuses could cause concern for the Kurds of Afrin, which until the Olive Branch offensive had been controlled the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Having established control over Afrin following the 2011 Syrian uprising, the group created a Kurdish education system, ending a decades-long ban on the Kurdish language.

The YPG-affiliated Hawar News Agency (ANHA) claimed the Turkish plan to establish the higher education institutions “confirms” Ankara is trying to engineer the demographic of the region.

Turkey and the US agreed in August to establish a so-called ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria, which Erdogan plans to turn into a ‘peace corridor’ where millions of Syrian refugees now living in Turkey could be resettled.

Turkey believes the US is dragging its feet on the save zone and has threatened to take unilateral action to establish the zone if the US does not take practical steps by the end of September.