How do Syrians live in the Turkish city of Urfa amid “extremism”?
Printed Edition ‖ No.: 223
Enab Baladi – Urfa (Turkey)
In a Masjid nearby “Al-Madfa” square in the city center of the Turkish city of Urfa, or what is locally known as “Maydan Al-Tobaji”, a Syrian young man shouts in the Masjid after the end of Salaat (prayer) announcing “the advent of Caliphate and the demise of tyrants”, refusing to leave the Masjid, a scene that has repeatedly happened inside the Masjids of the city. The police arrives, arrests the young man and releases him after hours of investigation.
Enab Baladi sought the views of a number of Syrians living in Urfa, who have been talking about the spread of Jihadist Salafist movement among themselves, who considered the city “one of the essential gates for Jihadists willing to enter Syria through Tal Abiad crossing, since it is only a few kilometers away from Al-Raqqa, the capital of Caliphate.”
Others say that the conservative character of the city made it a foothold for many of those sympathizing with the organization of the “Islamic State”. They described them as “having adjusted their watches and heartbeats to the timing of the Caliphate”, while others asserted to Enab Baladi that they avoid those who belong to the organization, who are in abundance inside the city.
“Urfa is favored by the organization”
Most of the Syrian revolution activists avoid going to Urfa, since they see is as an area favorite by the organization, because of the “easy” movement of its members inside the city, as they describe it.
Syrians living in the city of Urfa fear the members of the organization, some of them told Enab Baladi that they can get whoever they want in there, testifying by the murder of two members of the campaign “Al-Raqqa is slaughtered silently” in the city last October, which the organization claimed responsibility for, in addition to the attempt of kidnapping the Brigade of “Al-Raqqa revolutionists”, Abu Issa, from the main square of the city a year and a half ago, and many other recurring incidents.
One of the Syrians living in the city (who refused to give his name) asserted the presence of “the spies for the organization, who prepare lists of the names of its enemies and opposing members and specify its next targets.”
Despite the fact that the Turkish security has arrested many suspects of belonging to or having a connection with the organization, yet the Syrian young man considers that there are many more people, names and bodies in the city, who raise many questions regarding their previous connection with the organization, or current one, “some of them were even members and security elements among its ranks.”
The organization penetrates into the city
Anas, a Syrian Arabic language teacher who lives in Al-Hashimieh in the city, says “I have not noticed a vast activity of the Jihadist Salafism in the city, but there are some movements by those religiously committed young men”, further explaining that the activity includes lectures and religious lessons based on Salafist’s thought and creed, in addition, there are some groups who pray in small rooms (Musala) and are surrounded by a number of Syrians, as he puts it.
The Syrian teacher explained that the assemble of young Syrians around such phenomena is due to “the use of the Arabic language by these groups in Musala, the benefit from the young people’s reaction towards the new society in the emigration, in addition to the rampant of unemployment, which drives many of them to fill their times with worship acts and religious lessons.”
“Activists are only worth a bullet by a masked”
Most Syrian refugees interviewed by Enab Baladi agree with Anas, including the Syrian activist Hasan, who lives in Urfa for a while now, and says that some young people, who are sympathetic with the thoughts of the “Islamic State” and other intellectually extremist groups, took advantage of the situation in order to spread and promote their ideas.
Hasan adds that “these groups publish the organization’s issues in CDs that are secretly and freely distributed to trusted people. They also distribute booklets and paper leaflets containing the organization’s Fatwa and ideas inside the city”, pointing that “many members of the organization, who fought within its ranks, are currently living freely in the city, threatening the lives of activists.”
Hasan chose Urfa to live in “because of its cheap prices, as well as its nature that resembles his city, Al-Raqqa”, as he puts it, but he does not hide his fear of the organization; “at the end, all they need to silence any voice that expresses hatred towards the organization is a bullet by a masked man on the streets, with an investigation that would be quickly wrapped up and filed against unknown or someone outside of the border.”
Extremism affects Syrians
A Syrian young man cast Friday’s sermon, in one of the “Musala” in the neighbors of Al-Hashmieh neighborhood, talking about the virtues of Jihad and the importance of supporting Jihadists/Mujahedeen, a scene that does not seem strange in the city that is famous of its rural quietness/calmness, which contains, according to the latest official statistics, more than 250 thousand Syrian refugees.
A Syrian young man casts Friday’s sermon, in one of the “Musala” in the districts of Al-Hashmieh neighborhood, talking about the virtues of Jihad and the importance of supporting Jihadists, a scene that does not seem strange in the city that is famous for its rural calmness, and which contains, according to the latest official statistics, more than 250 thousand Syrian refugees.
Observers warn of the negative influence of the Syrian existence in the city, “as each refugee will be suspected to be a source of danger and a terrorist project to be cautious of, which pushed some people to be intolerant, close on themselves and stay away from their communities”, according to Sheikh Jamal Al-Badri, director of a Sharia institute in Istanbul.
Al-Badri believes that “a Muslim’s duty is to integrate into the new society, holding into what is right in religion and showing good manners and dealing”, criticizing in his interview to Enab Baladi, the behaviors, of those whom he described as “common people”, which do not belong to religion and are caused by ignorance and the absence of true understanding of the forgiving purposes of Sharia, as he puts it, since it is “a duty to respect the society that welcomed us and to repay it with goodwill.”
Despite the difficult situation in Urfa, yet activists do not deny a “positive and constructive” status that could be relied on and supported in order to have it as an impervious shield for the Syrian society inside the city, represented in a number of Syrian religious institutions, supervised by Syrian scholars and teachers, who adopt a moderate approach.
Al-Bakri concludes describing the institutions’ role as “protecting the young men’s religion, morals and Arabic language and identity, as well as guiding them to the right knowledge away from extremism and fanaticism. They also reflect a good image of Syrians, their moderation and their adherence to the love doctrine rather than to killing and violence.”
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