Exclusive – Semblance of Normal Life Restored under Turkish Rule in NE Syria
Life has almost returned to normal in regions that were part of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in Syria. According to the residents of Afrin, Azaz, al-Bab, Jarablus and villages in the northern Aleppo countryside and northeastern Syria, a semblance of a normal life has returned, away from the horrors of war.
Basic services have been restored after the regions were liberated from the ISIS group and after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were expelled from the area by the Free Syrian Army and Turkey some two years ago. In contrast, regime-held areas are still mired in chaos and poor services.
The Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations areas are located north and east of Aleppo city. The 4,000-kilometer area is controlled by Turkey and its security is overseen by the Ankara-backed National Army. Some 2 million people now live in the area. They include locals and displaced.
Asharq Al-Awsat toured the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch regions, witnessing how life has returned to normal. Mahmoud Merhi described the situation as “calm, stable and relatively safe.”
He had arrived from the Hama countryside in search of stability in Afrin city where he now resides. Stability has attracted Syrians from different parts of the country. They have arrived here in search of permanent employment, he said, stressing that Turkey will not allow the regime to seize the region as it has done in other parts of the country.
The situation is not completely stable, he remarked, citing the occasional booby-trapped car attacks that target markets and heavily populated areas. Blame is usually pinned on the YPG that denies the accusations.
Prosperity of trade and industry
Mahmoud Khairo, from the Idlib countryside, works at a cake factory in Afrin. He decided to move to the area from Idlib some six months ago after stability, security and trade and industry were restored. He moved his cake factory to Afrin where he rented a large warehouse for 400 dollars a month. He has created 20 job opportunities at the factory and is distributing his products to the local market at a profit.
The availability of olive oil lured Mahmoud Dalati from the Damascus countryside to Afrin. He used to work in a soap factory, but was forced out of eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside around a year-and-a-half ago. He has now opened a small workshop where he produces Syria’s famed soap, a trade he learned from his father and grandfather. He sells his product in the cities of al-Bab, Afrin and Azaz.
“Life and work in these areas is much better than it is in other Syrian regions,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. The markets are full of people and trade is thriving in local and Turkish goods. Different businesses have opened, such as currency exchange shops, jewelry stores, bookstores and factories. The people get paid in Turkish liras.
Harmony between locals and newcomers
Amin Naso Kurdi, a local from Afrin, said: “Life between the locals and displaced here is based on love and mutual respect. We share the same concerns and joys and we respect each other’s traditions. We have never viewed them as strangers.”
“This has been our trait as Syrians for centuries,” he stated. He also noted the marriages that have taken place between peoples from different regions and the locals. “The unions took place without any sectarian or ethnic impediment.”
Teaching and languages
Jomaa Kazkaz oversees education in the al-Bab region within the Euphrates Shield region.
He said the education sector has overcome several problems and has come a long way in returning students back to the classrooms. Schools can accommodate 80 percent of students after they were renovated and rebuilt by local and international organizations.
Turkey has taken it upon itself to support education in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch regions, he said. It has provided school desks and stationery, teaching expenses and salaries that reach 750 Turkish liras.
“Teaching at our schools is an example to be followed. We have adopted amended regime curricula and introduced English and Turkish language classes,” Kazkaz said. He remarked, however, that schools still cannot accommodate all the available children that are flooding the region, saying the situation has led to overcrowding in classrooms.
Observers have noted that al-Bab city’s economic prosperity can be attributed to the availability of some free services, most notably, health care. Turkey has constructed the 200-bed al-Bab hospital that boasts eight operating rooms.