Turkey's top treatment for Syrian rebels, eyeing homecoming (PHOTOS)
Before being admitted into the Kilis camp, a reporter is instructed to stay in the car once inside, and refrain from taking pictures or talking to camp dwellers. Our Syrian interpreter told us, dramatically, about nearly being assaulted by the camp's people, merely for being a native of Aleppo – a Syrian city that has less than excelled in anti-Assad protests.
I happen to be the first foreign reporter to be invited to Kilis – that is, with the exception of the press people who flocked here for Angelina Jolie’s photo ops with refugees.
Syrian refugee camps in Turkey are protected by the local police and run by Turkish officials, while Palestinian refugee camps scattered across the world are under self-rule.
Suphi Atan, Coordinator General of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s humanitarian task force, treats me to a slide show of the Kilis camp. It is essentially a container city consisting of 2,100 two-room containers, with a total population of 9,627 people, according to officials.
There is a total of 23,343 Syrians currently accommodated in six camps in various locations across Turkey, including in Kilis. Another four humanitarian camps are standing idle. Some 16,500 refugees have gone back to Syria, 6,000 of them having stayed in Kilis.
There are no Christians among the Syrians currently harbored in Turkey.
To put this in perspective, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War saw more than 650,000 Palestinians turned into refugees in a matter of days. Only a few hundred of them were eventually allowed to return to their homeland. And nobody cared about all those people.
Handouts by the IHH foundation to each family of the ‘guests of Turkey’. No Palestinian refugees ever got any such handouts.
Kilis' inmates do not have to labor: all work around the camp is done by specially hired personnel. Camp dwellers are served three meals a day. Their container homes are fitted with toilets, water and heating systems, air conditioners, etc. There is a school providing classes for anyone aged between 5 and 18. The camp also has a mosque and a supermarket.
Credit cards are distributed among refugees to support their daily needs, each with some $300-400 provided by the Turkish government. The government has invested a total of $163 million in this and other humanitarian camps. Food for the camps is supplied by IHH.
Just as there are no Syrian refugees in Turkish humanitarian-speak, there are no wounded Syrians in Turkish hospitals, either: they are “recovering visitors” in IHH “guesthouses.”
Coordinator General Atan tells me some 500 Syrians have received surgical treatment in Turkey over the past year. Those I have personally met were minorly wounded, and they did not mind talking to a reporter. Only one of them asked me to have his face blurred if I chose to publish his picture.
This man introduced himself as Abu Amin. He is a 29-year-old native of Latakia, a Sunni. He is single, and his mother has emigrated to the United Arab Emirates. An engineer by occupation, Amin spent 15 months serving in the Syrian army. At some point, their unit was deployed to Baniyas. Local rebels were said to be in collusion with Israel. Once Amin realized this was not true, he deserted the ranks and joined the rebels.
He then spent three months leading a rebel group of 240 fighters. Fifteen of his men were killed in action in this period, while Amin himself was lightly wounded a week before we met.
Amin tells me a bit about the ways of the Syrian opposition.
“No one in the Free Syrian Army knows each other’s real names,” he says. “Civilians in Syria do have guns, most of which either come from family caches or are captured from troops. You can buy a cartridge for $13. I myself bought a rifle from Shiite villagers for $2,000.”
Abu Amin has his own perspective on who is friend or foe for the Syrian opposition.
“I am in favor of a NATO intervention,” he explains, “but I think no one will come to our rescue, so we will have to fight to the bitter end. The whole world is against us. I wish America would bomb Iran, and I wish America, Europe and Muslims would ally against the East and defeat it. There is a Hadith about this. Shiites are no Muslims – they are really kafir, they come from Jewish Talmudists. The Shiites do us more harm than the Masons and the Zionists combined. Just read what Ibn Taymiyyah wrote about the Shiites! The Americans are better than the Shiites, and the Christians are better, too.”
Team leader Amin does not agree with the official story told by Damascus and Tehran, who claim that the opposition is backed by Israel.
“Israel is still better than Assad,” he says. “We Syrians are under occupation, even more so than the Palestinians. Their occupation is overt, ours is ideological. We have no life in Syria, merely existence. If we manage to free ourselves from Assad, we will then liberate the Golan Heights and Al-Quds (Jerusalem) within a day."
“They say there is no more place for Hamas in Syria? No problem, they will find themselves a place. The Palestinian Resistance will carry on. The Hamas office in Damascus served to provide aid to Palestinians. During the Israeli air raids against Gaza, it was us Syrians who were aiding the Palestinians. But the world only spoke about help from Iran and the Gulf nations.”
Amin goes on to explain that Syria’s Kurds are Satan worshippers, at which point a savvier inmate steps into our discussion. His name is Ali Billu, he is 30, and he comes from Aleppo. He says he is not a refugee: he “simply communicates with journalists.” Billu turns our conversation to a different perspective.
“In Aleppo, many diverse communities used to live side by side as friends and neighbors for years. But then the government started to collaborate with the Shiites and the Druze, granting them privileges. That has lead to rising tension between us and the Shiites.”
Well-heeled Syrians in Turkey do not have to stay in humanitarian camps. Instead, they rent apartments.
I am visiting Abu Salam Manghani in his Turkish domicile. His wife and children are present, as well as his daughter-in-law and her baby. Some of Manghani’s sons are full-grown men. Two of his daughters are still in Syria, which is why Manghani asks me not to take pictures of himself and his family. He explains that he “now works with the Free Syrian Army.” He used to run an appliance store in Aleppo.
Manghani moved to Turkey nine months ago, following a street protest in Aleppo held by 18 intellectuals, himself included. After two of the protesters were killed, the others decided to flee Syria.
Manghani tells me protesters would assemble in mosques, even if they were not religious themselves.
“People would arrange meetings in uninhabited areas or in mosques, and if there were no police around, they would start chanting slogans,” he says.
Manghani’s elder son was enlisted in the army and stationed in Damascus. He bribed his officer with $100 for an unscheduled home leave, from which he never returned to the ranks.
Abu Salam does not have a weapon himself, but he makes financial contributions to support the fighting opposition, considering it to be his duty. His brother was in the Muslim Brotherhood, and he emigrated from Syria in the 1980s.
“We do not want an Islamic state, we want democracy and the rule of law,” says Manghani with regard to the opposition’s purpose. When I ask him about the opposition’s methods, he says, “The bombings and the suicide bombers have nothing to do with the opposition, I swear.”
Manghani tells me the Syrian government is behind the recent explosions in Damascus. On top of that, he says, the government arms groups of thugs to target dissident groups – people like himself.
Like most Syrians, Manghani has a soft spot for Russia, even though he is upset by Moscow’s support for Assad.
“We like Russia very much,” he says. “It would always stand up for us against Israel.”
Abu Salam believes the Assad government will not last without Russia’s backing.
“Whoever topples the Assad regime will govern Syria,” he explains. “If America deposes Assad, it will be the winner.”
For some reason, Manghani is not concerned with the possibility of such “governance” coming in the form of occupation, the way it happened in Libya.
“We are ready to accept military support, same as in Libya. But not occupation,” he muses. “We do not like America, but we want to cooperate.”
Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT
The Baksi tent camp looks like Palestinian refugee camps from 1948, but here you are forbidden to talk to its inhabitants.
Ali Billu came from Aleppo to ‘speak to journalists.’ He polishes the words of wounded combatants who have never heard of political correctness. IHH’s hostel in the city of Hatay.
An exile’s life is hard even if you have all mod-cons inside the container-turned-house, including air conditioning. The Kilis refugee camp in Turkey.