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In Turkey, Criticism About Military Aggression In Syria Exists But Is Muted


With Turkish troops in northeast Syria looking to expand a so-called safe zone, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be enjoying public support at home. Surveys show 3 out of 4 respondents in Turkey like his military operation. NPR's Peter Kenyon asked people in Istanbul to elaborate on their views, albeit in a country that is hostile to dissent.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It's not that people in Turkey don't have opinions about the military operation in Syria, targeting Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists; it's just that many don't think voicing their opinion is worth the risk. Nearly 200 people have been detained by authorities over social media posts critical of the operation, and Turkish media reports some two dozen have been arrested. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that many people shy away from a reporter carrying a microphone, and those who are willing to talk, asked that their last name not be used.

Defne, seated at a sidewalk cafe, chooses her words carefully, but it sounds like she thinks Turkey will achieve its goals.

DEFNE: (Through interpreter) OK, I'll give you my personal view. I think it's all a big game, and it will play out, and the strongest will survive. Of course, it affects me; it affects all of us living here.

KENYON: But when asked if she wants to see millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey return to their homeland, a process President Erdogan has promised to begin, she grows even more cautious.

DEFNE: (Through interpreter) I'm just carrying on with my life. I don't think anything I could possibly say would have any impact on what happens.

KENYON: Two men chatting not far away, Mehmet and Ahmet, consider the same question. Mehmet avoids talking about the fighting but happily endorses the cease-fire.

MEHMET: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: "I think it's great that there's a cease-fire right now," he says, "because it means no more bloodshed. Hopefully, it will all resolve. That would be good for our soldiers, good for us and good for Syrians, as well." His companion, Ahmet, isn't a fan of the operation, mainly because of the potential risk to Turkish soldiers.

AHMET: (Through interpreter) All the other countries have opposed our operation, including the U.S. in the end, so in my view it's not worth it. I look around at all these people here - going to the pool, living a good life - we start to feel like second-class citizens here.

KENYON: Both men enthusiastically agree that Syrians and Turkey should go home as soon as possible. At a restaurant serving Lebanese food, one of the waiters says he's from Syria and was studying in Damascus when he decided it was safer to leave the conflict and try to start a new life in Turkey. His name is Samir, and he's 22 years old, a prime candidate for service in the Syrian military.

SAMIR: I'm thinking to - I'm thinking, as well, back to Syria. Yeah, I'm thinking as well. Yeah, to Damascus, but I can't.

KENYON: He can't go back because he's certain he'd be drafted into the army. If he's only 22, I say, he'll be eligible for military service for some time to come.

SAMIR: Yeah, many years, if I'm still alive (laughter).

KENYON: As the conversation goes on, it quickly becomes clear that as much as Samir has been thinking about Syria, he doesn't really see himself living there again, at least as long as the current regime is in power.

SAMIR: Maybe visiting. Maybe visiting because I love Istanbul, and I hope to stay here. Yeah, I will make my life here.

KENYON: Even though the shooting has stopped, Samir adds that he'll only be going back for family visits because, as he puts it, for young people these days, there is no life in Syria.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUZANNE KRAFT'S "FLATIRON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.