By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In late March 2016 I went to Turkey to report on the tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish region of Afrin, which had included shelling of Kurdish positions. In addition I wanted to interview refugees and learn about the status of the Syrian rebel forces. Discussions were ongoing about a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and some rebel groups, as well as threats that Turkey would intervene in Syria. Rumors circulated of Saudi planes in Turkey. The day I arrived there was a terrorist attack, blamed on the PKK, in Ankara.
Over several days I spent time in Kilis visiting refugees and listening to the sound of outgoing artillery at night. We drove to Hatay province, ancient Antioch and the border town of Reyhlani. The last day I drove to Urfa and Suruv and met Kurdish refugees.
Here are the articles from the trip.
1.’Turkey still tense in wake of Ankara bombing’, The Jerusalem Post, March 19 Written from Kilis, it includes perceptions of the conflict from local people; “Students went to school. But the normalcy was contrasted with the media and press which covered the bombing on their front pages, along with other stories about Turkish soldiers on the move and discussions of support for various policies regarding Syria, such as a no-fly zone along the Syrian border.”
2. ‘Turkey at a crossroads in Syrian war’, The Jerusalem Post, March 21. Written from Reyhanli, it looks at the chances for Turkey’s involvement in Syria: “The game changer for Turkey has been two events in recent weeks. First was the gains the YPG was making in Syria against Syrian rebel groups near Aleppo. The defeat of these rebels could mean more than 600,000 further refugees will be forced to flee via the narrow corridor between YPG forces and Islamic State into Turkey.”
3. ‘Encountering hundreds of thousands of Syrian Ghosts,’ The Jerusalem Post, March 23. In which I write from Kilis, looking at the history of this town and the war next door, and those who have gone before, “There are ghosts in Kilis. Not just the ghosts of murdered journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, the latter of whom a movie has just been made about. There are hundreds of thousands of Syrian ghosts. These refugees who passed through may still be alive, but the ghost of the Syria they left behind still haunts this place. How many hopes and dreams were broken at the inaptly named Bab al-Salaam (gate of peace) border crossing? The refugee tragedy is still unfolding.”
4.’Syrian women find refuge in Turkey’, The Jerusalem Post, March 24, from the border with Syria, interviewing courageous women like Ayla Cimen who work with Syrian refugees, “The most important thing is to be human. There is no difference between Jewish, Muslim, Christians or Kurds,” she says, but wonders why other countries are not showing more commitment to refugees.
5.One of the key issues is the work Turkey has done to support refugees at the border at Kilis, something I argued at Al-Jazeera the EU could learn from. I wrote, “The IHH operation in Kilis, which has recently opened a 2,800 sq metre warehouse for storing dry foodstuffs, clothing, and essentials such as toiletries, as well as producing meals, is one of several innovative projects aiding Syrian refugees. What makes the IHH stand out is its efficiency and modern design: With 365 men, almost all Syrians, volunteering and employed, they are providing 25,000 hot meals a day and 100,000 pieces of bread to be shipped across the border to Syria.” -The EU can learn from Turkey’s refugee experience, March 24
6. ‘How the Syrian war ripped the heart out of the Middle East’, The Jerusalem Post, March 15, 2016. This is an overview of five years of tragic war in Syria and how it changed the Middle East.
7.’From Hope to Tragedy: A Book review of Burning Country’, The Jerusalem Post, March 17