Enab Baladi’s Investigation Team
A large Turkish umbrella that can enclose the northern countryside of Aleppo on the Turkish border has covered an area of about 400 square kilometers, and added a Turkish character to the region on the military, security and civil scales.
The beginning was two years ago, on August 24, 2016, when the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield was launched. Fighters from the Free Syrian Army took part in the operation and controlled vast areas of the northern countryside of Aleppo, formerly controlled by ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Despite the announcement of the end of Operation Euphrates Shield in March 2017, the Turkish-backed opposition factions took over the entire region of Afrin last March, adding 2 percent of the Syrian land to the area that is now called after the Turkish military operation.
Population of the northern countryside of Aleppo
Divided into 174,507 families
Located in 338 villages
The shield created by Turkey in the north of Syria had to be supported by security, military and civilian bases in order to redirect the loyalty of both military personnel and Syrian civilians to those who protected them and provided great services in their areas, which were never available in Syria.
Large investment projects launched by Turkey in the northern countryside of Aleppo have provided work opportunities for the population living there. Syrians in this area are also protected by the Civil Police Force, which runs local councils under Turkish supervision and support. Their children are studying Turkish in schools, and they are buying Turkish products and driving their cars on highways built by Turkey.
Moreover, the Turkish character is transformed into a Turkish identity in the form of identity cards given to citizens in several areas of the northern countryside of Aleppo, carrying the person’s credentials. These identity cards are directly connected to the Turkish Civil Register.
Unlike most of the areas controlled by the opposition in Syria, the Euphrates Shield area in Syria witnessed the establishment of the first organized army, which ended seven years of factionalism and opened the door to the formation of a trained and institutionalized military body backed by a country whose army ranks eighth in the list of the world’s most powerful armies.
An integrated military establishment north of Aleppo
Eight months have passed since the formation of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) out of the combination of the Free Syrian Army’s factions in the northern countryside of Aleppo. This was considered as a unique incidence within the military hierarchy of the opposition factions, after the start of the Syrian revolution and turning the peaceful movement into an armed conflict against al-Assad forces and their allies.
In parallel with the pluralistic factionalism emerging in the opposition-controlled areas in recent years, the TFSA emerged as an organized military bloc unlike the other factions. Turkey had the most prominent role in forming and supporting it, and forcing the factions to move to the status of order after being in state of randomness following their formation.
The leader in the Free Syrian Army, Mustafa Sijri, said that in the past two years the northern countryside of Aleppo has witnessed the formation of the TFSA and the police apparatus, which is deployed in all areas and charged of civil affairs, as well as the military police that deals with military abuses perpetrated by the factions’ personnel.
|The formation of the TFSA came after the Operation Euphrates Shield, following which the Free Syrian Army factions took control of the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo after defeating ISIS. It was one of the organizational operations initiated by Turkey in the northern countryside of Aleppo that is adjacent to its southern border, in addition to other organizational aspects at the service, civil and health levels.|
Sijri told Enab Baladi that these steps came to re-institutionalize the Free Syrian Army in the region and to end the state of factionalism, pointing out that the extended area from Afrin to Jarabulus belongs to one formation: the TFSA. The efforts at this stage are directed towards the creation of an integrated military establishment, and despite the great work it needs, the region’s keepers have advanced greatly in the process.
Three legions and three colleges
The organizational system that the TFSA is known for is characterized by its constituent legions that were formed three days after the announcement of the formation of the new army. The three legions (First Legion, Second Legion and Third Legion) have recently controlled the area of Afrin in cooperation with the Turkish army.
In the period following the formation of the legions, the factions were stripped of their identification titles and considered as one army, based on three divisions in each legion and three brigades within each division, in addition to merging three battalions in each brigade.
Three colleges were established as centers for the army. The first one was Abdul Qader Saleh College and it was received by the General Staff, which runs the TFSA, from the Levant Front on October 11, 2017. The cornerstone of the second college was set on the fourth of last Oct, to be established later by al-Mutasim Brigade, which is affiliated to the Free Syrian Army.
In early November 2017, the Hamza Division handed the General Staff a college in the city of al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo about a month and a half after its establishment. It includes about 2,200 fighters who receive military expertise in dedicated halls and training yards, which were equipped after taking control of the city in early 2017.
The General Staff also included hundreds of fighters from Ahrar al-Sham in Aleppo, following the coordination with the major factions of northern Syria.
The Deputy Chief of Staff, Col. Haitham al-Afisi, spoke to Enab Baladi about “positive steps” taken in the course of the military organizational process carried out in the north of Aleppo. He pointed out that the number of fighters in the area of Euphrates Shield is estimated at 25,000 fighters.
National Police for civil matters
The military organizational procedures initiated by Turkey in the countryside of Aleppo were not limited to the announcement of the TFSA, as the National Police apparatus was also formed. The National Police operations are focused on solving the daily problems of the citizens.
The National Police was formed in February 2017, and received training in Turkey. Several batches graduated and took over the security centers in cities and towns.
The training includes sessions on intervention against riots, Police Law and General Discipline, as well as training on residential operations, explosive device destruction and criminal investigations.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the commander-in-chief of the National Police, Maj. Gen. Abdul Razzaq Aslan, said that the police apparatus consists of two bodies; the first is the Civil Police Force and the second is the Special Forces, whose task is to maintain public security in the area.
Anadolu Agency noted in a report published in October 2017 that 5,631 Syrians in the countryside of Aleppo have undergone training in five schools attached to the Turkish Police Academy since December 2016. Afterward, they were put on duty in the cities of al-Bab, Azaz and Jarabulus, in addition to hundreds of recruits who took charge of the security matters in the city of Afrin and its countryside after being completely dominated.
Military Police and courts
In March 2018, three months after the formation of the TFSA, the General Staff issued a number of resolutions suspending the work of the military councils in the countryside of Aleppo, and regrouped all terms of reference in its favor.
According to the decisions taken at that period, the General Staff shut down the activity of all military councils in the northern countryside of Aleppo, dictating that all the factions must close the prisons under their control and hand over detainees to the Military Police that was formed at the time.
A military court was also set up with all its staff in the city of al-Bab, and a judicial police (military police) was formed in the areas of Azaz, al-Bab and Jarabulus.
In a previous opinion poll that Enab Baladi conducted in Aleppo, the residents called on to give the Military Police powers, and called for activating its role and “highly” coordinating with the police and civil security forces to “surround the area with a full security circle and protect it in a better way.”
According to the leader in the Free Syrian Army, Mustafa Sijri, after the withdrawal of military headquarters belonging to the factions from the cities and turning them into colleges and camps, the Military Police has been dealing with the factions’ affairs, the military abuses and the personnel’s violations.
Sijri pointed out that the Civil and Military Police are directly linked to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Syrian National Army.
Each branch of the Military Police includes about 100 officers, and each branch is led by a commander and two deputies. In a previous interview that Enab Baladi conducted with the spokesman of the Syrian National Army, Mohammad Hamadin, he said that the court and the police are tasked with “controlling the military matters and violations within the legions and deter them.”
He revealed that “the police forces are the executive arm of the military court” which includes six judges, and a general judge and a president are soon to be elected.
Regarding the adoption of the law in the trials, Hamadin clarified that “the judges will not violate Islamic law and the principles of the revolution, and the court would be concerned with military matters and issues of those belonging to ISIS or members associated with the regime.”
The economy of Aleppo countryside in Turkish hands
Perhaps the economic matter is the most concerning issue for a region that has just got out from a war in a state that seeks to strengthen its presence there. After the expulsion of ISIS from the northern countryside of Aleppo, the region has become impoverished and with no infrastructure or resources to ensure its recovery.
With the opening of development projects, paying attention to infrastructure and the opening of investment opportunities, the Turkish policy has contributed to an accelerated stabilization of the area’s economy. However, this has at the same time tightly tied the area with Turkey to the extent of being influenced by the devaluation of the Turkish currency against the dollar, following the crisis between Ankara and Washington.
A starting point for reconstruction?
One of the largest Turkish investments is the establishment of highways with international standards connecting the cities of northern Syria, according to the July 30 edition of the Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak. It explained that the works of the highway from the border crossing to the center of the city of al-Rai are continuing.
The newspaper said that there will be two other roads that will be attached to the highway leading to al-Rai. The first road will be extended to the city of al-Bab, and the second to the city of Jarabulus. It pointed out that there would be a plan to extend the road to the city of Manbij, after the implementation of the agreement between Turkey and the USA, and the exit of the Syrian Democratic Forces from the city, which will play the role of the commercial gate between Eastern Aleppo and Iraq thanks to its location.
The northern countryside of Aleppo is a passageway for trucks between the various Syrian regions controlled by different authorities, from the areas of Kurdish self-governance in the northeast of Syria to Idlib, which is under the opposition’s control in the north-west, and the neighboring regime-controlled areas from the south.
Enab Baladi contacted the director of public relations and information at the civil council of the city of al-Rai, Ala Hamad, who explained that the project costs 60 million Turkish liras and is fully supervised by Turkey, depending on local labor force.
The talk about the roads opened the door to economic analyzes that linked their establishment to the entry of Turkish companies to the area in order to start the reconstruction. The newspaper reported the existence of a plan to turn an area of 30,000 square kilometers, extending from the Turkish borders to the borders of Aleppo and Manbij, into a buffer zone after ensuring its security, to become a commercial center that will embrace the reconstruction operations in Syria.
Mulham Jazmati, a researcher in the Syrian Economic Forum, attributed the establishment of the roads to the extension of an economic artery to the areas of Aleppo countryside, in order to facilitate trade exchange between the areas and Turkey, which would benefit both sides.
Jazmati said that the cities of the countryside of Aleppo are only surrounded by Turkey and the regime-controlled areas. They have currently commercial and social dealings only with Turkey, considering that these areas will not be able to remain isolated from the neighboring counterparts that are under the regime’s control. Thus, there will be connection between the two areas even if the areas of Aleppo countryside remained under the Turkish tutelage. He expected the establishment of a network of roads linking the areas of Aleppo countryside with Aleppo.
Turkish companies breaking into the region
Private Turkish companies has been imposing a new investment reality in the northern countryside of Aleppo, after involving themselves and securing a foothold in major projects in key sectors of services needed by the population.
Syrian and Turkish businessmen have started cooperative efforts to launch projects in the area, which have been culminated in a meeting that included the President of Kilis Province Chamber of Commerce, Muhammet Öztürkoğlu, Turkish businessmen and industrialists of the Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (Müsiad), in addition to Syrian traders and businessmen who have investment projects inside the Turkish territories.
Müsiad was founded in Istanbul in 1990. It represents about 35 companies and employs about 1.5 million people. It has 75 points of contact in Turkish territories and focuses on large economic and investment projects.
In an interview with the Minister of Services in the “Interim Government,” Abdullah Razzouk, he explained to Enab Baladi that the investments of Turkish private companies in the countryside of Aleppo are carried out individually away from the “government.” Each council contacts the company wishing to invest and they both agree on the implementation of the projects put forward.
In reality, this policy has resulted in several economic agreements for local councils, including the supply of electricity to the city of Azaz through the Turkish private company ET Energy and the project of “residential suburb of Qabasin” between the city council and Göktürk establishment and construction Company.
Al-Bab City Council laid the foundation stone for the first industrial city in the area under Turkish support, with an area of 56,100 square meters, and signed a contract with Euro Beton to build a cement quarry.
In mid-August, al-Bab City Council received two electricity supply offers. The first from a private Turkish company and the second was directly offered by the Turkish government.
Salaries in Turkish Lira
The most closely related issue to Turkey at the level of citizens and their daily transactions is the salaries of workers in the new projects, employees in local councils, teachers and military institutions, which Ankara turned them all to the Turkish lira.
This increased the area’s correlation with the economic and political situation in Turkey. The decline of the Turkish lira against the dollar (from four liras per dollar to six liras) was reflected in the region’s stagnant markets until the exchange rate stabilized.
Local calls to support the Turkish lira in the face of US sanctions may be the clearest evidence of the correlation of the area’s economy and its dealings, from its major projects to daily living, with every Turkish economic instability or change.
Turkish sponsorship of the educational process
The Turkish footprint has been clearly noticeable in the service sectors in the northern countryside of Aleppo. Its repercussions have been manifested in educational, medical and service aspects, despite the presence of a spontaneous response through which the Syrian north seeks to preserve the original cultural aspect of the area.
Turkish hospitals and cultural centers, which have been introduced by Turkey into the northern cities of Aleppo, have raised different opinions between those who considered them as a form of development that introduces “unusual” facilities and services in the region to benefit the residents, while others considered them a way of dominance aimed at strengthening the Turkish presence in the north of Syria.
Eye on Education and Higher Education
Turkey established full control over the educational process in its held areas in northern Syria, although the curricula in schools there are similar to those of the “Interim Government,” which represent the modified version of the curriculum of the Ministry of Education of the Syrian regime.
These curricula have undergone changes at the level of political contents and references, most notably history and geography, which contain “fallacies” according to the Turkish point of view. For example, any words referring to the “Ottoman occupation” were replaced by “Ottoman rule.”
Turkey is trying to implement its educational system in these areas, and this was confirmed by Ali Riza Altunel, director of the program “Lifelong Learning” in the Turkish Ministry of Education, during an interview with Asharq al-Awsat last September. He said that “the Ministry is trying to transfer the Turkish education experience, especially e-learning system, to the areas of the Euphrates Shield within a short period of time.”
These include about 500 schools, where about 150,000 students are being taught, according to the statements of the Turkish Ministry of Education.
The educational offices of the Free Aleppo Governorate Council issued a decision last year to include the Turkish language within the curricula, starting with elementary to secondary school, but it has not been implemented in all the schools of the area until now.
In addition, many schools have been given Turkish names of those who were killed during some of the battles of the Operation Euphrates Shield. The flag of the revolution has been combined with the Turkish flag and displayed on the cover of school scorecards.”
In terms of postgraduate studies, Turkey has recently introduced branches of its government universities in the countryside of Aleppo, including the universities of Harran and Gaziantep, which will start receiving students in the next academic year 2018-2019.
Last June, the Local Council in al-Bab city, in east Aleppo countryside, signed an agreement with the Turkish University of Harran to open a branch in the city. During an interview with Enab Baladi, the president of the Council, Jamal Osman, said that the university will start receiving students in September.
He added that the university includes several scientific and literary branches, which are taught in engineering and science schools (mathematics, physics and chemistry), and that in the future other disciplines such as medicine and economics will be introduced.
The branch of the University of Harran in the city of al-Bab will provide the same Turkish curriculum as the original branch, which is originally located in Şanlıurfa (Urfa). The university also stipulated that students apply for the foreign students’ examination, YÖS, in order to be able to join the university.
The Turkish Gaziantep University also decided to introduce a vocational school in the northern city of Jarabulus, in east Aleppo countryside, in June, after obtaining the approval of the Turkish Cabinet.
Students will receive education in their own language. The school term will last for two years, while higher education is planned for four years, according to the university.
However, some consider that the opening of branches of Turkish universities in the north of Syria will solve a large problem that many students have been suffering from; thus encouraging them to return to study.
Three hospitals under Turkish administration
Turkey has provided support to the health sector through the reparation and expansion of hospitals in the area and the reconstruction of several health centers, including Ihtaimlat and Suran center in addition to the center of Dabiq and al-Rai. It is also supervising the opening of a large hospital in the city of al-Bab, which is managed and organized by Turkey, to be the largest and most sophisticated one in the region for the time being.
The hospital contains 200 beds, 40 examination rooms and clinics, as well as CT scan, two X-ray, ultrasound devices and four dental devices, according to Ahmed al-Abo. He added that the hospital also includes eight surgical blocks, a special section for obstetrics, incubators and dialysis centers.
During an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Abo stated that job opportunities will be reserved to doctors and nurses living in al-Bab first and other opportunities will be available for Syrians residing in Turkey.
The Turkish government has promised to build the hospital, which will include all possible medical branches, and is expected to pay the salaries of its employees, said Ammar Nassar, director of the Information Office at al-Bab city Council.
The cities of al-Rai and Mare in the northern countryside of Aleppo have witnessed the same case, for the Turkish government has built a 75-bed hospital in Mare, and another in al-Rai, al-Bab, and both will be opened soon.
These hospitals will facilitate procedures for patients who often have to go to the hospitals of the crossings and other areas in order to get the necessary treatment.
Turkish companies serving Aleppo countryside
In addition to education and health services, the cities and towns of the northern countryside of Aleppo witnessed the opening of service projects under the supervision of Turkey, headed by the national post and telegraph directorate of Turkey (PTT) in the region of Jarabulus, which started to provide banking and postal services in the city since October 2017.
PTT opened another branch in the city of Azaz last April, which aims to help citizens and employees get their salaries via ATM, and to facilitate the exchange of remittances between Turkey and the region, according to the Azaz Local Council.
Turkish Telecom Company (Türk Telekom) opened its first service center in northern Aleppo in July, to be the first of its kind in opposition-held areas in northern Syria.
The services provided by the center, which is located in the city of Azaz, include issuing new SIM cards instead of the lost ones, and switching from Turkcell to Türk Telekom, and from one name to another, in addition to obtaining new lines using the passport, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Aleppo countryside.
He added that the cell towers located in al-Bab and Azaz have been reinforced with the 4.5 G Internet.
The citizens of Aleppo countryside depend mainly on the Turkish networks, which cover areas within the Syrian border, most notably Turkcell, Avea and Vodafone.
The local councils in north Syria, especially in the city of Azaz, are working on several projects to provide public gardens, small playgrounds and children’s games with the direct support of the municipality of Kilis, in addition to the reparation of the streets, roads and motorways, which have been characterized by a Turkish character manifested through the financing and supervision and even the naming process.
Regions whose names have been changed
The Turkish character competes with the Kurdish in Afrin
- The Kawa al-Haddad roundabout (in the city of Afrin) has become known as the Olive Branch roundabout.
- Nowrouz roundabout (in the city of Afrin) has become known as the roundabout of Salah ad-Din al-Ayoubi.
- The square of the Saraya building (in the city of Afrin) has become known as Recep Tayyip Erdogan Square.
- The village of Kastal Mekdad (located in Bulbul town in the countryside of Afrin) has become known as Souuldjouk Obasi.
- The village of Kotan (located in Bulbul town in the countryside of Afrin) has become known as Zafer Obasi.
- The village of Karzila (located in Bulbul town in the countryside of Afrin) has become known as Saghir Obasi.