Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here
A Syrian family in a home provided to them by Turkish relatives in the border village of Guvecci.
A Syrian family in a home provided to them by Turkish relatives in the border village of Guvecci.

Syrian refugees on Turkish border offer respite for rebels

Syrian refugees living over the Turkish border ensure a welcome for rebels in need of respite, medical treatment, or just to wash clothes.

NISRIN, Turkey // A fighter from the Free Syrian Army sauntered into the front yard of a run-down home on the Turkey-Syria border where his friends, three families of Syrian refugees, were living. Wearing a black shirt and camouflage trousers, he was on a mission: to wash his laundry.

The 36-year-old muscular fighter from Latakia, who declined to give his name, said he was a member of a rebel unit that was deployed about an hour's trek inside Syria and regularly carried out attacks against Syrian military positions.

Officially, the Ankara government says it is not a party to the conflict in Syria. But while defecting Syrian soldiers and recruits to the rebel cause are barred from brandishing weapons on Turkish soil, Syria's northern neighbour is a key, if tacit, ally for the armed opponents of President Bashar Al Assad.

Turkey provides them with a safe haven where they can retreat to rest, visit their families, receive medical treatment and, yes, wash clothes.

"There are many families here [in Turkey]. We come and go back," said the rebel from Latakia. When his camouflage fatigues and shirt were dry, he would return to the fight in Syria, he said, pointing to a nearby clothesline.

How easily rebels pass back and forth across the border is evident in the number of wounded fighters and civilians that are being treated in local hospitals and clinics, and by the refugee camps that shelter the families of rebels.

About 42,700 refugees are being sheltered in nine camps near Turkey's 911-kilometre frontier with Syria, Turkey's disaster relief agency said yesterday.

With about 1,300 Syrians crossing the border into Turkey in the past two days, an additional encampment would be built, it added.

There is also unofficial aid to the rebels and their supporters. Hundreds of Syrians live with relatives or friends along the frontier.

Ahmad Adul Wahad, a 33-year-old Syrian, said that he had helped transport wounded Syrians to Turkish hospitals, and that most of the dozen or so displaced Syrian families living near his village supported the uprising against Mr Al Assad.

Those who have fled Syria said that Turkish villagers, many of whom speak Arabic, have received them warmly.

"The Turkish family gave us this house for free - it was empty - and let us live in the village," said a Syrian man who had been in Turkey for eight months. The house is little more than a shack with missing windows, but it was an improvement on conditions in the refugee camps.

In exchange, the man and his family help to work their host's fields and receive some vegetables.

How long these pockets along the frontier will remain peaceful is unclear.

In response to the downing of a Turkish military jet, Turkey declared last month that any Syrian military unit approaching the border would be seen as a threat and dealt with accordingly. Since then, Turkish warplanes have been scrambled several times after Syrian helicopters skirted the frontier.

Near the border, the crack of gunfire is heard each day and the Syrian government has voiced its impatience with the rebel sanctuaries on its doorstep. And the reason is not the exchange of labour and shelter for food.

There is a thriving black market in arms here, said a prominent Syrian activist in Antakya, and the rebels are fuelling it, especially those recent Syrian army defectors who have no weapons. The Turkish government's prohibition on bearing arms is little more than a fig leaf on the burgeoning trade.

With Ramadan approaching, hopes are high among the rebels that the tide is slowly turning in their favour.

"If we have help with the helicopters, Assad is gone," said the rebel from Latakia. "We are sure it will end in Ramadan. God will help."

Others are more cautious. "We feel the regime will not continue for a long time, but we know in our mind that it will continue because many countries in the world support it," said Wasim Taha, a Syrian activist who recently founded the Syrian Relief Medical Organisation to provide medical support to injured Syrians.

"I am here because of the words 'Allahu Akbar'," said a Syrian man who has lived along the border in Turkey for a year and asked to be identified only by his nickname, "The Bird".

He rattled off the enemies of the Syrian opposition: Mr Assad, Russia, Hizbollah, Iran and China. "We are fighting five," he said.

Syrians living in Turkey are digging in for a long fight, he said. With the help of their hosts, the rebels will prevail, he added. "What happened to [the late Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi is so cute and kind. We wish to do much more" to Mr Al Assad."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Thomas Seibert in Istanbul

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National