Small Turkish province shows big heart towards Syrians

Kilis, Turkey's second smallest province, hosts more than 120,000 Syrians who have crossed the nearby border

Small Turkish province shows big heart towards Syrians

World Bulletin / News Desk

“We believe in our army, and in our state.”

Amid sounds of artillery invading the atmosphere of the city of Kilis, just a few miles from the Syrian border, Halil Deli, 36, taxi driver for five years now, support the Turkish army’s shelling in Syria.

But he quickly shows concern not only for his family but for the city’s future.

“My wife cannot sleep in peace due to sounds of artillery all night,” Deli says. “Since the rocket fired from the Syrian side of the border hit two public school here, every morning I feel stressed for my two daughters when they go school.”

A rocket from the Syrian side damaged two public schools located in the city center on Jan. 18. Two children were killed.

But despite an apparent anxiety, he stresses that he feels he "is protected by Turkish military’s retaliation".

The Turkish military has been continuing to shell PYD and PKK positions in northern Syria intermittently in retaliation to artillery fire from positions of the terrorist PYD group based around Azaz since Feb. 12.

The Turkish army shelling has intensified after a car bombing in Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday killed 28.

An intensity that has not gone unnoticed by university students studying at Kilis December 7 University (The name of university, founded in 2007, corresponds to the day the city of Kilis was liberated from occupation during the Turkish War of Independence in 1921).

“I have been living in Kilis for four years and we now have got used to live with the noise of artillery,” Ahmet K., 21, said as the Turkish artillery continued to fire Thursday night.

He added though that he was proud of his army.

Following the start of the Syrian civil war, Kilis experienced somewhat of an economic upturn -- and even more so recently with the heightened media attention.

Olea Hotel, the newest and most accommodating of the city's three hotels, opened last year and has seen its occupancy rate rise to more than 80 percent, according to the hotel owner.

"We host mainly foreign and domestic press and the hotel's occupancy increased by 90 percent in two weeks," says the owner who did not wish to divulge his name. "Yes we earn money these days but we have never ever wish to earn money from the border tension."

Kilis has also been hosting more than 120,000 Syrian refugees. For the Turkey’s second smallest province, this presents its fair share of challenges whether social, economic or pertaining to the travails of daily life.

According to official numbers provided by the Kilis governorate, 87,000 Syrians are registered in the city center (for 93,000 Turks). The province is also home to two refugee camps that host more than 37,000 additional Syrian nationals.

Local businesses have had to adapt to new situations.

Kiis Chamber of Craftsmen and Artisans (CCA) chairman Mehmet Nur Korkmaz says that at least 75 unregistered companies run by Syrians were engaged in illegal import and export activities in Kilis.

"According to CCA figures, at least 700 Syrians are working illegally," Korkmaz adds. "Their average age is around 20 years old."

"Employing illegal workers is not only an obstacle for unemployed Turkish youths in Kilis but also dangerous for Syrians who cannot have access to their full official rights."

Korkmaz also compares daily wage amounts between Syrian workers and Turkish workers.

“Whereas the Turkish workers daily wage is around 50 Turkish liras ($16.8), Syrians can work illegally for 20 Turkish liras ($6.7),” he says.

Nevertheless, according to the Kilis Trade and Industry Chamber, there are at least 70 other registered Syrian companies in the textile, food and construction industries.

Ayla Çimen, 48, official translator working at Oncupinar Refugee Camp, says she considers the refugee camp residents as her relatives.

"Before our Syrian brothers came here, I was a housewife. When they started to enter in Turkey, Kilis government agencies needed many translators," she explains.

"I heard a dozens of sad stories. I could not sleep for two years," she says. "When our Syrians brothers came here, we shared all that we had. I even divided my daughter's dowry into two parts and shared it with them."

Last month, Justice and Development (AK) Party vice chairman Ayhan Sefer Ustun nominated the people of Kilis for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"People share their jobs, houses, trades and social spaces with Syrian refugees. I suppose that such an example of an act of mass peace does not exist in the world,” he wrote in his letter to the Nobel committee.

However, Ayla Çimen stresses that everyone "has a limit for this sort of thing".

"If we force our own capabilities, we also could be toppled," she adds.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Şubat 2016, 11:13