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Syria and Turkey commentary

Archive for the tag “Turkey”

#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

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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