Ankara, the capital of Turkey, is restructuring the economic map in the northern countryside of Aleppo governorate after it started a military operation called “Euphrates Shield,” through which it supported the factions of the “Free Army” to recover control over the area under the “Islamic State” (IS) Group. The operation ended in March 2017.
After years of war, the states that have intervened, militarily or economically, in the Syrian file started to contemplate the costs of their support to either of the two parties involved in the conflict- let it be the Syrian regime who has been supported by Russia and Iran, which in return attained long-term economic agreements or the allies of the opposition, which lacks the economic support that would help it rebuild the infrastructure of the areas under its control.
Turkish Economic Guardianship
When the factions took over the eastern and the northern countryside of Aleppo governorate, the rehabilitation and reconstruction processes, at the level of services, began under a Turkish supervision. The starting point was reopening the border crossings between Turkey and rural Aleppo. There are three crossings: “Bab al-Salameh” (2016), “Jarabulus” (September 2016) and “al-Rai” crossing, opened officially in December 2017, to be the first civil-commercial crossing with Turkey in northern Aleppo.
Turkey, following the “IS” phase, began setting up futuristic plans for the area, plans to cover different dimensions. At the security level, it reinforced security in the area, obliged the factions to unite and to move their military headquarters from the cities; at the economic level, Turkey opened border crossings leading to an unprecedented revival of the area’s economy. As for the services, it supported local councils, rehabilitated service and medical facilities, built hospitals and schools, upgraded roads, opened the first (PTT) branch, which is a national post and telegraph directorate in Turkey and installed Turkish telecommunication towers.
Turkey’s interest in the area has been a matter of controversy, so where its goals that have been addressed by many analysts; some believe that the infrastructure reconstruction process aims to help refugees, which official statistics count as about three million people, return to Syria.
However, Mulham Jazmati, a researcher in the Syrian Economic Forum, had another opinion, for he believes that Turkey is seeking to strengthen its presence in the area, not at a military level only but also at an economic one, to win the area’s reconstruction file.
Al-Jazmati eliminated the talks saying that Turkey, in the future, wants to join these areas to its territory to restore the Ottoman Empire; he explained that if Ankara wanted to achieve this goal, it would have annihilated the borders between its cities and the area and similarly would have canceled the visa imposed on Syrian citizens. Hence, Turkey only wants to enforce its guardianship on the area, for it has strategic interests there, on top of which is preventing the formation on a unified Kurdish state at its borders in the future.
Delayed Investment Projects and Absent Syrians
Despite the fact that almost a year has passed since the end of the “Euphrates Shield Operation,” and that “IS” is sent out with a relative return of security, large investment projects are absent from the area, according to the media activist, Abdul Qader Mohammed, who assured that the implemented projects are small in general including the rehabilitation of schools and upgrading roads while large investment projects that would help employ the workforce and decrease unemployment, so far, do not exist.
Nevertheless, Turkey has already started implementing large investments. In the city of Qabasin in the al-Bab area, for example, the Local Council have, in the last month, signed a memorandum of understanding with “Jok Türk” for Construction to build a residential project in the area, consisting of 225 residential apartments and about 30 shops following the Turkish style, according to the Project Management Committee.
In the context of the Syrian reconstruction processes, the absence of Syrian investors and businessmen has become quite notable. Abdul Malek al-Nahar, holder of a Master’s Degree in Economy and based in rural Aleppo, expressed surprise at the missing Syrian businessmen, who are based in different Arab countries and Turkey, and their lack of interest in rural Aleppo. He invited them to show support and direct their investments, towards small and large enterprises, which would serve a wide segment of society, especially that these projects demand workforce, and, accordingly, would be able to solve the unemployment crisis in the area in general.
The economic researcher, Mulham Jazmati, confirmed that Chamber of Commerce in Gaziantep has repeatedly called on Syrian businessmen to invest in rural Aleppo and is always trying to bring them together to be the first to benefit from these areas and their investments. However, there were not any serious undertakings by both parties, the Syrian businessmen based in Turkey and the Turkish Government.
Jazmati pointed out that a number of merchants have applied to the Chamber of Commerce desiring to invest and start businesses in Jarabulus, but Turkey has not yet approved the applications.
Jazmati confirmed that a mutual trust has formed between Syrian citizens and Turkey after the latter tried to enhance security in the area, in addition to people’s lack of faith in the existing Syrian administrative authority, including the Syrian Interim Government and the executive authorities, which failed to prove efficiency on the ground.
Jazmati also confirmed that a study has been applied to the Chamber of Commerce in Gaziantep about the possibility of repeating the Turkish model of municipalities in rural Aleppo, for, in Turkey, the municipalities are independent and each of them has its own budget.
The Most Prominent Turkish Projects in rural Aleppo
The Local Council of the city of Qabasin has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Turkish company “Jok Türk” for Construction, according to which a residential project would be constructed under the name “Qabasin Housing Neighborhood.” The project consists of five concrete blocks containing 225 residential apartments and about 30 shops, which differ in size and follow the Turkish style.
The apartments are of two kinds: The first kind’s area is 90 square meters, consisting of two rooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet. The second kind’s area is 110 square meters, consisting of three rooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet.
The flooring of the apartments is wooden following the Turkish style; the walls are painted with plastic paint and isolated, while wood, melamine and iron are included in the details of the other apartment. The project is executed and supervised by the Turkish company and the workforce is exclusively Syrian. The Management Committee told Enab Baladi, that all Syrian citizens, who which to live in Qabasin, can benefit from the project.
As for the prices, they relate to the location and the area of the apartment, ranging between 14 thousand and 400 dollars and 18 thousand and 700 dollars. In relation to the payment process, the project follows an installments system, four major installments separated from each other by five months. The rest of the price is paid in monthly installments. According to the Management Committee, people can take over the apartment 15 month from the project’s date of implementation.
Turkey supported schools in the area’s different cities. As a part of the process, it provides supplies and school materials, including books, stationery and desks, as well as preparations relating to schools’ buildings.
Last April, Director of the Department of “Continuing Education” at the Turkish Ministry of Education Ali Reza Alton Al, said that Turkey is taking the responsibility of preparing and operating schools in different Syrian areas, especially the ones covered by the “Euphrates Shield” Operation.
The Education Bureaus, affiliated to the area’s local councils, last September, admitted that the Turkish language has been added to the curricula.
Last August, the Department of “Lifelong Education” of the Turkish Ministry of Education announced a training course for teachers who are already working or interested in teaching in the area’s schools.
The Health Sector
According to the Turkish newspaper “Millet,” Turkey supported the health sector through the restoration and expansion of the area’s hospitals, as well as the renovation of a number of medical centers, including Ehtemlat and Suran, along with the center of Dabiq and al-Rai towns; it also decided to build a large hospital in the city of al-Bab, under its management and supervision. The hospital would be the largest in the area and it can accommodate up to 200 beds.
To Enab Baladi, the Director of the Media Office in the City of al-Bab Ammar Nassar confirmed that Turkey will build the hospital that will provide different specialties and that it will cover the salaries of the hospital’s employees, pointing out that Turkey is already paying the salaries of other city sectors and establishments’ employees, including water, electricity and other administrations.
Last January, the Turkish Başakşehir Academy launched a branch in the Syrian city of al-Bab. In addition to this, last October, the first (PTT) branch was opened in the city of Jarabulus and began offering bank and communication services.