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Syria and Turkey commentary

Archive for the category “Turkey”

Christians in the Middle East, some thoughts

6th century murals at Mar Elian church in the Old City of Homs, possibly the oldest in Syria [2010, DD]

6th century murals at Mar Elian church in the Old City of Homs, possibly the oldest in Syria [2010, DD]

As Pope Francis conducts his tour of Jordan, the occupied Palestinain Territories and Israel, the moment seems right to consider some of the Christian communities of the Middle East and their ongoing role in the regional conflicts, especially the Melkite Greek Catholics and the Aramaic-speaking Syriac Orthodox.

It is refreshing to see that the Pope has been prepared to speak out about the 66-year impasse which has poisoned the Middle East since 1948. As the BBC reports this morning, “Speaking in Bethlehem on Sunday, the Pope said: “The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.” He talked of the “tragic consequences of the protracted conflict” and the need “to intensify efforts and initiatives” to create a stable peace – based on a two-state solution.”

On 20 May in St James’ Church, Piccadilly, London Gregorius III Laham, the Patriarch of the Church of Antioch and spiritual head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, gave a talk entitled ‘Syria – What Hope?’ The Patriarch is based in Damascus but makes regular officially-sanctioned trips abroad to give speeches and has frequently appeared in the media, notably last year when he was vocal about the happenings in the mixed Christian/Muslim town of Maaloula. No doubt the Patriarch has to be very careful what he says, but his speech in London on 20 May was deeply disturbing for what he did not say. In his assessment of the current situation in Syria and how it came about, he began by talking about how Syrian people came out peacefully in demonstrations asking for dignity and peace – so far so good. But then he launched straight into lambasting Muslim extremists who, he said, had come in and hijacked the Syrian revolution. He blamed Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for their support of jihadi extremists who, he said, were the cause of the problem. ‘We are the victims,’ he declared, ‘of terrorist groups and their supporters, and those who send them.’ The violence of the Syrian government regime in crushing the peaceful protesters was not mentioned at all. The regime’s role in thereby escalating the conflict was completely passed over, jumping straight from the peaceful protests to the jihadi extremists as if there was nothing in between. The Patriarch cannot really be so ingenuous. He knows full well that the time lapse between the start of the peaceful protests and the arrival on the scene of the jihadi extremists was over a year, but no mention does he make of that missing year in his narrative. On the ‘problem of Palestine’, he is on safer ground, having the reassurance that he is fully in tune with the Syrian regime when he calls for a resolution of that conflict.

On 18 May I returned from spending 10 days in the Tur Abdin region of southeast Turkey, homeland of the Syriac Christians whose communities have been divided by the artificial border imposed after World War One between Turkey’s southeast and Syria’s northeast region. 1915 will be the centenary of what they call the Sayfo, the massacre of tens of thousands of their community at the hands of Kurdish tribesmen encouraged by the Young Turks, a catastrophe that caused the flight of many south into what is now Syria. Because of the ongoing war in Syria, many Christians from Hassaka and Qamishli in Syria’s Jezira Province have fled over the last year or so across the border near Nusaybin and were taken some 50km north to a refugee camp exclusively for Syriac Christians in Midyat. The situation was explained in a piece I wrote for the BBC last August:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23614968

Father Joaqim at Mor Augen Monastery, July 2013

Father Joaqim at Mor Augen Monastery, July 2013

This year however, the situation has changed. The camp is full instead with Syrian Kurdish families, as all the Syriac Christian families bar one have all left. All have been sponsored by local Syriacs to leave the camp and enter Turkey properly. Most have moved on to Istanbul, but some have stayed in local jobs in Midyat. The final remaining family is already half-way out, preferring to live in a squalid single room in town costing 150 Turkish lira a month than to live in ‘Guantanamo’ as they call it. A simple family, the father is a carpenter, but has no papers so cannot work. His five children have not been to school for the last two years, yet he tells me they feel comfortable in Midyat despite the cramped conditions because they are among their own community.

Right at the southern edge of the Tur Abdin, high on a ridge overlooking Syria and the Mesopotamian plain, the newly rebuilt Monastery of St Jacob of Qarno has just been connected to the water supply of the local village. Its solitary monk, Father Aho, dug the trench himself with the help of the local community who raised 400,000 euros for the monastery’s restoration thanks to remittances sent from Europe by members of the Syriac diaspora. At Father Aho’s ordination as a priest on 26 April 2014 over a thousand people attended from all over the world. In the monastery shop he sells commemorative mugs and T-shirts, and proudly shows me his multi-lingual library, his garden newly planted with potatoes, fruit trees and vines. All over the Tur Abdin members of the Syriac community are determinedly holding onto or rebuilding their heritage, fighting court cases against Kurds who occupied their empty properties and lands on the basis that they were the original owners, while the Kurds were merely squatters. They are gradually succeeding.

What does all this tell us about Christians in the Middle East? That they understand the plight of the displaced Palestinians very well, and are very good at looking after their own. It is to be hoped that the Pope’s readiness to speak out against injustice inspires a few more Middle Eastern Christians to do the same, be it injustice not just against their own but also  injustice against others.

 

The famous 5th century St Simeon Stylites' Basilica in the heart of a lawless area south of Aleppo [DD]

The famous 5th century St Simeon Stylites’ Basilica in the heart of a lawless area south of Aleppo [DD]

#Syria’s Kurds declare ‘Rojavo’, autonomous western Kurdistan

Mor Augen Monastery near Nusaybin, Turkey, now overlooking the new Syrian 'Rojavo' [DD]

Mor Augen Monastery near Nusaybin, Turkey, now overlooking the new Syrian Kurdish ‘Rojavo’ [DD]

Roman columns of Nisibis in the no man's land between Turkey's Nusaybin and Syria's  Qamishli, the new capital of Rojavo [DD]

Roman columns of Nisibis in the no man’s land between Turkey’s Nusaybin and Syria’s Qamishli, the new capital of Rojavo [DD]

The Kurds have been the big unknown in Syria’s revolution/civil war. The Kurdish street slogan has been: ‘Democracy for Syria. Federalism for Syrian Kurdistan.’ The Kurds have seen in the Syrian revolution a major opportunity to further their aspirations for their own homeland, or autonomy at the very least. For years they have been talking about eastern Syria as western Kurdistan – ‘Rojavo’ is their word for it.

‘We were promised our homeland in 1920 but then betrayed, you remember?’ my Syrian Kurdish lawyer had said to me, back  in 2011 in Damascus, when the revolution first broke out. I knew that under the Assad regime many of them had been stateless and dispossessed, with no ID cards. He explained: ‘This means they cannot vote, own property, get a government job, or go to secondary school or university, but they are still forced to do military service. And people forget,’ he had added, ‘that the PKK [Kurdish separatist group fighting against the Turkish state for an autonomous Kurdistan] troubles already killed 45,000 people back in the 1980s and 1990s.’

No informed observer doubted that the Kurds needed to be courted, by both the Syrian and the Turkish governments. Bashar finally gave them citizenship in 2012 after 50 years of state deprivation, in an attempt to deter them from joining the revolution, but by then it was not enough. They were already fighting, sometimes against the regime, sometimes against the rebels, not only in the northeast Hassakeh and Qamishli areas, but also in Aleppo and north of it, in the Kurdish villages like A’zaaz. When Syrian regime forces withdrew from the Kurdish border areas in summer 2012, the PKK took control. Many speculated it was even a tacit agreement between the PKK and Bashar – there is a strange link, as the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is from the rarefied minority of Alawi Kurds. It should have been a dream come true for the Kurds, but it quickly became worse than under Assad, with local Kurds complaining the PKK were mercenaries and criminals.

Although most are nominally Sunni Muslim, the Kurdish identity is based not on religion, but on ethnicity and cultural tradition. In Iraqi Kurdistan schools do not impose Islam but teach all world religions equally. The last thing Kurds want is to be ruled by an Islamic state. This explains the fighting that broke out around Ar-Raqqa in summer 2013 between Syria’s Kurds and the extremist Islamist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS who are seeking to establish precisely such an old-style caliphate. These were the very groups the Italian Jesuit Father Paolo sought to mediate between when he entered the lion’s den and was kidnapped by ISIS for his pains.  This Kurdish versus Islamist in-fighting is an unwelcome distraction, but for Syria’s Kurds these extremist Islamists represent the greatest menace of all, and they would still choose the hated PKK over the Islamists. The leader of the Kurdish Saladin brigade declared his position: ‘We want a civil democratic government that treats everyone equally.’

He may have got his wish, for on the eve of the January 2014 Geneva II talks where Syria’s Kurds were denied a seat of their own, the establishment of Rojavo as a semi-autonomous region was declared, with 22 cabinet ministers based in Qamishli. True to their ideology, the new government is a Christian/Muslim/Kurdish mix.

The international community would not care greatly what the Kurds got up to, except that Iraqi Kurdistan is oil rich, Syria’s oilfields lie mainly in its northeast and Turkey’s oilfields are in its southeast provinces. A future independent Kurdistan has the potential to control a massive chunk of the Middle East’s oil reserves – to say nothing of its water or even its wheat reserves.

The new Rojavo region now has the 100,000 barrel-a-day Suwayda oilfield which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the country’s oil production; the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Khabour rivers; and one of Syria’s richest wheat-producing agricultural sectors. What a prize – well worth the wait.

Related links:

* http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/64e97c3e-8465-11e3-9710-00144feab7de.html#axzz2s4UVAt2o

* http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/82550c80-4c7e-11e3-958f-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

* http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5984016e-f08d-11e2-b28d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2s5M0GLwP

* http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f3e76df2-b8bd-11e2-a6ae-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2s4UVAt2o

* http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23614968

* http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2014/january/a-door-to-damascus

* http://www.hauspublishing.com/product/445

Old border gate between Nusaybin and Qamishli, new capital of Rojavo [DD]

Old border gate between Nusaybin and Qamishli, new capital of Rojavo [DD]

A Dangerous Chemistry – the Kurds and water

Flooded Rumkale in Eastern Turkey, following the damming of the Euphrates upstream

Flooded Rumkale in Eastern Turkey, following the damming of the Euphrates upstream

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01gsjdw/From_Our_Own_Correspondent_Turkey_and_France_What_Lies_Beneath/

The southeast of Turkey is being transformed by the ambitious and controversial water scheme known as GAP. Since the 1980s 22 dams and 19 power plants have been built on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and GAP – or the Southeast Anatolia Project to give it its full title – is now nearing completion.  By 2015 the Turkish government hopes that GAP will double Turkey’s irrigated farmland, produce over a quarter of its electricity and bring social benefits to the impoverished population in the nine provinces affected, 90% of whom are Kurdish.

For decades Turkey has been wrestling with its Kurdish problem in the southeast of the country. Since 1984 over 45,000 lives have been lost in the skirmishes between the Kurdish separatist group known as the PKK and the Turkish army. In April this year however, after months of negotiations, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan reached an agreement that, if fully implemented, will end the 30 year old conflict. In exchange for greater recognition of Kurdish rights, the PKK agreed to withdraw to Iraqi Kurdistan. The withdrawal is ongoing, but slow, with only 20% so far having left. The peace process is fragile, and downstream in the Kurdish parts of Syria, unpredictable forces have been unleashed by the ongoing civil war. Will the GAP project help or hinder?

***

Soreyya, a mature stylish teacher from Istanbul, is one of a steady trickle of cosmopolitan Turks now venturing cautiously eastwards. She wants to explore the other half of her own country.

‘I had no idea it was so civilised!’ she tells me, as we sample an exotic lakeside breakfast at the half-submerged village of Halfeti. ‘My friends thought I was crazy to come this far east. They said I would hate it, but I love it,’ she says, putting her bare bejewelled arm maternally round young Zafer, our beaming Kurdish host.

‘Yes, we are learning to understand each other,’ he affirms.

We have just enjoyed an early morning boat ride to Rumkale, a mighty Byzantine fortress on the Euphrates, now stranded on an island by flooding.  Drowned in the valleys all around, lie hundreds of other sites, their archaeological treasures lost, stolen or transferred hastily to local museums.

Flooding is a not a new phenomenon in Eastern Turkey. It began with the epic deluges described in the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah, though unlike those cataclysms of nature, today’s version, the equally epic GAP project, has been decades in the planning. The Turkish government hopes it will redress the balance in living standards between the poverty-stricken Kurdish southeast provinces and the wealthier western parts of the country, by bringing employment and prosperity.

‘You must be so pleased,’ I say to Zafer, ‘with all this development helping your restaurant business.’

‘I am one of the lucky ones,’ he tells me, ‘Land values have tripled since 2000 and I own this place. But many do not own the land they farm. Aghas, wealthy  landlords, own it. They get big government payouts when their land is flooded.’

‘You mean the Kurdish farmers get nothing?’ I ask.

‘Nothing,’ he repeats. ‘Some have lost everything. The government must sort out property rights and compensation for us as well. And this boom has made bride prices shoot up!’

‘Don’t worry,’ laughs Soreyya, ‘Next year I’m coming back to get a job at one of the private schools. Maybe I’ll bring my teenage daughter with me!’

Further east in the Tigris gorge at the ancient city of Hasankeyf,  I sit with Kobe, a gloomy Kurdish cafe owner  whose livelihood will shortly disappear under 70m of water when the controversial Ilisu Dam is completed.

‘They tell us there will be underwater tourism,’ he grumbles, ‘so people can still see the historic bridge and monuments. But why do we need all these dams? This is just Ankara’s way of blocking the valleys where the PKK used to infiltrate and displacing us from our land. We have too much water already.’

Perversely, while some have too much water, others have too little. Downstream in the broken jigsaws of Iraq and Syria  – whose Kurds are also striving for autonomy – GAP, according to UN sources, has already led to a 40% reduction in water flow. The recent exodus of Syrian Kurds into Iraqi Kurdistan was driven not just by fighting, but by lack of water. Turkey, controller of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, can turn the tap off – or on.

More difficult to control are its Kurds, some 10-12 million of them and growing. Kurdish birth rates are legendary.

‘When Erdogan says he wants every Turk to have three children,’ Kobe continues, ‘his message is really more subtle than that. For western Turks who are frightened to have even one or two, he wants them to raise it to three. But for us Kurds, who often have 8 or more, he wants us to bring it down to 3 – otherwise, he thinks, what can they all do when they grow up except join the PKK?’

‘If Erdogan isn’t careful,’ he goes on, ‘he may accidentally help us to unite with our Syrian and Iraqi brothers. If he ignores our grievances, he will regret it. Have you looked at a map? Most of the oil wells in Turkey, Syria and Iraq are in our Kurdish territories.’

‘And most of the water,’ I add softly.

His troubled face breaks into a smile.

‘You know, we could be a model for the Middle East,’ he goes on, ‘we are not fanatics like those crazy jihadis trying to take over in Syria. Kurdish Islam is not the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Iran. In Iraqi Kurdistan our schools teach all world religions equally.’

As I wave goodbye to Kobe –  and to Hasankeyf before it vanishes forever –  I can’t help thinking that  a whole flood of western Turks like Soreyya  will need to come quickly to the east, to understand their Kurdish countrymen better  and to save Turkey’s fragile peace process with the Kurds.       Otherwise not just the landscape, but the entire regional map may be reshaped  –  by the most powerful weapon of all , water.

Hasankeyf on the Tigris, due for flooding [DD]

Hasankeyf on the Tigris, due for flooding
[DD]

Geneva II needs a genius, to ensure all parties can claim victory

Prophetic 2007 poster of Bashar in Damascus' Hijaz Railway with the caption: 'We pledge allegiance to you with blood forever.' Blood drips from the words 'with blood'.[DD]

Prophetic 2007 poster of Bashar in Damascus’ Hijaz Railway with the caption: ‘We pledge allegiance to you with blood forever.’ Blood drips from the words ‘with blood’.[DD]

For a concrete date of 22 January 2014 to have been fixed for the Syria Geneva II talks at the UN, there must have been concrete developments behind the scenes. The timing, straight after the announcement of the US-Iran deal over nuclear weapons, suggests that a further connected deal with Iran must have been arrived at, requiring its involvement and cooperation over finding an end to the war in Syria. Then, barely a day later, came the joint announcement by Iran and Turkey’s foreign ministers, both of whom support opposite sides in Syria’s war, calling for a ceasefire before Geneva II. It is all too much of a coincidence.

The key players who can influence events at Geneva II are starting to line up. America and Russia are singing from the same hymn sheet, as are Iran and Turkey. All have reached the point where they can see military victory is not possible for any one faction, and that the rise of Islamist extremism is only going to get worse.

What is needed now is a genius who can devise a peace formula whereby all parties, notably the Assad regime and the main groupings opposing him, can claim victory and thereby save face. This will be an essential requirement – that no one is blamed and that everyone gains something from the deal.

With eight full weeks to prepare, this should be possible, especially given the amount of international pressure America, Russia, Turkey and Iran can bring to bear. Saudi Arabia and Qatar will need to be placated and given something too, so that they too can claim victory and save face.

Pray God the geniuses are hard at work devising such formulas, so that 22 January can be the beginning of transfer of power away from the Assad regime before he concocts his re-election in May 2014. The alternative will be years of suffering and destruction, with thousands more deaths, injuries and refugees – a terrible prolonging of Syria’s nightmare.

Related articles

#Syria’s oil and gas potential in the Eastern Mediterranean is wasted, while Israel’s thrives

Unintended irony in the caption beside Bashar: 'God is Syria's Protector'

Unintended irony in the caption beside Bashar: ‘God is Syria’s Protector’

No one mentions it much, but Syria, according to the specialist Oil & Gas Journal in Jan 2013, has the largest proved reserve of crude oil in the Eastern Mediterranean. Other lucky beneficiaries are Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon, all with large reserves of oil and gas. The gas reserves in this underwater Levant Basin are so huge the estimates say they would supply all of Europe’s gas demand for 7 years.

Yet while Israel has already started production from its Tamar gas field, and the huge Leviathan field is on course to follow in 2016/2017, and while Cyprus is also gearing up for its share and discussing shared export arrangements with Israel so both countries can benefit, neither Lebanon nor Syria, locked in conflict, can make any headway with exploiting these potential riches.

Western oil companies abandoned exploration operations because of political stalemate, but even now, after two and a half years of war, Syria’s government was still in April 2013 (according to a Congressional Research Service report) in discussion with Russia and China over offshore oil exploration. Syria is also said to have oil shale reserves estimated up to 50 billion tons. Russia’s state-owned energy companies have a huge stake in the Damascus regime’s survival so they can continue to profit from Syria’s oil and gas reserves, so Russia’s interest in maintaining the status quo with Assad in charge is clear. There is too much to lose, and it also wants to thwart Israel’s plans to build an undersea pipeline to Turkey, the obvious way to export oil and gas to Turkey (and thence to Europe) while excluding Iran and Russia, the two current supplier’s of Turkey’s energy needs. This also explains Obama’s instruction to Israel in March 2013 to apologise to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident, so that diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey could be restored. America wants its ally Israel to be able to export oil and gas to Turkey. The longer Lebanon and Syria take to sort themselves out vis-a vis oil exploration and production in the Eastern Mediterranean, the better, from the US point of view.

The conclusion?  There is no incentive for the US to end the Syrian war now that the chemical weapons issue is sorted, as they want no interference in Israel’s ability to export from its Eastern Mediterranean reserves. And there is no incentive for Russia to end the Syrian war while it can still benefit from Syria’s potential Eastern Mediterranean reserves in future, since Bashar is now solely dependent on Russia (and possibly China) for future exploration and production.

The Syrian people do not feature in this equation, as usual.

Related articles:

http://www.ibtimes.com/syria-losing-out-huge-reserves-oil-natural-gas-eastern-mediterranean-sea-while-cyprus-israel-get

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22509295

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/31/turkey-israel-gas-idUKL5N0IK3MF20131031

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2013/10/02/Slow-progress-in-Israel-Turkey-talks-threatens-gas-pipeline-plan/UPI-65691380733010/

http://www.energy-pedia.com/news/israel/new-155694

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines

Revenge in Arab proverbs #Syria

Arab proverbs on revenge do not augur well for Syria’s future. There are many, but here are a few, to give a flavour:

Blood washes away blood

Vengeance erases shame

Break one jar of mine and I will break one hundred of yours

I looked for Arab proverbs on forgiveness and could only find one:

Only when the fault is forgotten is forgiveness complete

Reading Robert Fisk’s offering from Damascus today:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/robert-fisk-in-damascus-assads-troops-may-be-winning-this-war-in-syrias-capital–untouched-by-obamas-threats-8825005.html

left me deeply troubled about where events are heading.

As the Turkish proverb says:

If you dig a grave for your neighbour, measure it for yourself

 

Related articles

No appetite for war in Eastern Turkey – except with Israel

My research trip to Eastern Turkey over the last couple of weeks yielded some unexpected discoveries. The trip was designed to update my Bradt Eastern Turkey guide for its second edition, but I kept finding myself sucked towards the Syrian border.

After revisiting Urfa’s Balikli Gol, the sacred fish ‘Pool of Abraham’ in temperatures of 40C, I drove 45km south to Harran to inspect its famous termite-like beehive houses, relics of biblical living, and its ancient university on the site of a pagan moon temple. All was quiet and exactly as I remembered it, so I drove on just 15km kilometres further south to Akcakale, the border town with Syria where five civilians were killed in October 2012 by shells fired from inside Syria. All quiet now, but on the edge of town I was startled to see a heavily crowded tent city, hemmed in by barbed wire fence. Its misery was palpable even from a distance. Designed to house 23,000 Syrian refugees, I later learnt it was now home to 36,000, a figure that defied belief. How could so many possibly live in such conditions in such stifling heat – let alone in Ramadan, due to start in a few days’ time?

I drove back and forth along the main road in front of the camp, feeling helpless, passing  several families hitching lifts, wondering if I should stop for them, but fearful in case I was in turn stopped by the Turkish authorities and in some way implicated for my involvement. Stories had reached me about how some Syrians were starting to run away from the camps, desperate to lead something closer to a normal life, after months of confinement.

In the end I decided my most useful contribution would be to give my food away – my picnic lunch plus two bags of nuts I had bought in Gaziantep market a few days earlier. Driving slowly, I pinpointed two small boys returning towards the camp who were carrying nothing at all. When I stopped and got out of the car to offer them the food, they were visibly startled and frightened, and required some coaxing to take the bags from me. They spoke neither Turkish nor Arabic and I wondered afterwards if they might have been Kurdish, since the area around Tell Al-Abyad across the border was a heavily Kurdish part of Syria. When I looked in the rear view mirror after driving off, I saw they had quickened their pace, hurrying back to the camp with their unexpected gift. It was an image that has stayed with me since.

Syrian refugee camp at Akcakale, south of Harran, Turkey (DD)

Syrian refugee camp at Akcakale, south of Harran, Turkey (DD)

The road past the front of Turkey's Akcakale camp for Syrian refugees (DD)

The road past the front of Turkey’s Akcakale camp for Syrian refugees (DD)

A few days later in Midyat on the way to visit the Syriac Orthodox Monastery at Gulgoze (Syriac name Ainwardo), I stumbled on another refugee camp. In contrast to the camp at Akcakale, this one was spacious and well-appointed, with cabins rather than tents, and numerous bathroom blocks similar to a European camp-site. Far from being overcrowded, it seemed largely uninhabited.

My subsequent enquiries explained why – the camp had only been built about three months ago, on land donated by a wealthy Syriac businessman, and was only for use by Syrian Christians.

Refugee camp for Syrian Christians in Midyat's Turkey (DD)

Refugee camp for Syrian Christians in Midyat’s Turkey (DD)

Syriac Monastery of St Cyriacus at Gulgoze, south of Midyat

Syriac Monastery of St Cyriacus at Gulgoze, south of Midyat (DD)

‘We feel very sorry for the people of Syria, and of course we have to help them when they come across the border to us. But we don’t want our government to go to war against the Syrian regime. We have problems of our own in Turkey, and our government should concentrate on those, not get involved in a difficult war next door.’

But a handful of people, Sunni Turks to a man, went one step further. ‘We don’t want war with Syria. But if this war grows and  becomes a war against Israel, that would be different. For that we would be ready…’

Echoes of Aleppo in Gaziantep

English: Caravanserai in Aleppo

English: Caravanserai in Aleppo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Bawabet al-Yasmeen alley at the Chris...

English: Bawabet al-Yasmeen alley at the Christian quarter of Jdeydeh, Aleppo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gaziantep Castle

Gaziantep Castle (Photo credit: Turkish Travel)

gaziantep_fabric

gaziantep_fabric (Photo credit: unionpearl)

Photographs from Gaziantep

Photographs from Gaziantep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photographs from Gaziantep, Turkey.

Photographs from Gaziantep, Turkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eastern Turkey’s ‘Paris of the East’ as it now likes to be known, Gaziantep (just Antep locally), is remarkably close to Aleppo in so many ways, historically, culturally and even in its famed cuisine based on the pistachio. It has at its heart a fortified citadel, its Christian quarter is being gentrified, with boutique hotels and cafes, just as Aleppo’s was a few years ago, but many of Aleppo’s have now been destroyed by the fighting. The Governor of Aleppo in medieval times built many of Antep’s mosques and hans (caravanserais), testimony to the shared trading links and thriving commercial traffic across the centuries.

Here today the links go even deeper. There are many Syrian refugees who are living on the charity of the governor, given soup and allowed to sleep in the mosques. The language problem is an issue for them, as most Turks here do not speak Arabic or English. The commercial links between this part of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria are stronger than ever though, with more trucks crossing the Bab Al-Hawa border than before the war, taking in food and various commodities to Syria, where the factories have to a large extent stopped functioning. Wandering round the souks of Gaziantep with their brimming sacks of spices and nuts, it is only the chatter of the Turkish merchants that force you to remember you are not in Aleppo.

Photographs from Gaziantep

Photographs from Gaziantep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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