Nine months have passed since the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army took control entirely over Afrin, yet, the region is still going through a security chaos, whether in terms of civilians’ everyday life or commercial activities, which have been paralyzed due to a number of reasons. Such instability was mainly caused by an aggravating phenomenon of kidnapping that led business owners and professionals to leave area.
As a last step, factions of the Syrian National Army have recently announced a crackdown on “corrupt groups,” which have been linked to kidnappings since the first day of the army’s entrance to the city.
It is not possible to compare Afrin’s current situation with the pre-army control phase. As such, a new reality was imposed on the city since the beginning of this year, ending a stage of stability that used to attract investors, factory owners and craftsmen. This unstable state pushed the leaders of the economic sectors to develop the ability to adapt a necessity that was not required in the past.
Weak purchasing power
Nawras al-Ali, a batteries and home appliances seller, talked to Enab Baladi about the pace of commercial activities in the markets of Afrin, saying: “After Operation Olive Branch and the Free Syrian army’s intervention, I immediately headed toward the city, as I used to work only in the towns of the northern countryside of Aleppo. The city of Afrin is the largest in the region and it is considered as a new market that opens new horizons for Arab tradesmen like us.”
Al-Ali added: “What is currently more noticeable than ever in Afrin is the weakening purchasing power of the population. Most of Afrin’s inhabitants are immigrants and displaced Syrians coming from all Syrian territories. Those who used to energize markets have already left the city before Operation Olive Branch.
According to the trader, factories and workshops have been closed after the armed factions’ intervention in the city, which led to increasing unemployment rates. Thus, several “luxurious” economic sectors, which are considered as supplementary, such as electrical appliances and clothing, were damaged.
Ahmed al-Muhammad, the owner of a clothing shop, pointed to another factor that contributed to crippling the activities of the city markets. Afrin is experiencing an alarming state of security instability, which is perhaps the most significant obstacle hindering its economic recovery.
Al-Muhammed told Enab Baladi: “Buying new clothes has shifted to the bottom of Afrin local’s priorities list. Due to high unemployment rates and bankruptcies after the war, clothing has become a luxury, and in case Syrians were obliged to buy clothes, they go to thrift shops which have significantly increased in number.”
He considered that the main reason behind the recession in Afrin markets is the absence of security measures: “We as shop owners cannot invest a huge amount of money in buying new commodity stocks. There have been many cases of theft and kidnappings of those who show signs of having big amounts of money… We operate in a limited manner, especially with the insignificance of commercial activities in the market, which remained in a state of stagnation even during feasts, let alone the current situation.”
Afrin’s economic backbone paralyzed
Khalid, an olive oil merchant, highlighted the impact of the absence of security on his work. He stated to Enab Baladi: “Afrin witnessed many security breaches, such as kidnappings and theft, which led traders like us to stay home or carry limited commercial activities. Many of my acquaintances have been kidnapped and were forced to pay significant ransoms. Merchants are the most targeted category with these type of crimes.”
According to Khalid, “Afrin’s prominent product is olives and its related extractions. The city depends mainly on the olive harvesting season which boosts factories’ production and the trade activities within markets. However, the situation is different this year, as many harvests have been stolen. In addition, several olive presses as well as pyrene and soap factories have been closed or robbed.”
He indicated that “royalty payment and extortion on circuits of transportation contributed to the fact that this year’s production marked one of the lowest quotas for this sector in particular,” pointing to a problem in olive oil distribution and prices.
During previous seasons, a can of olive oil used to cost about $50, but today it is sold for $ 35. Khalid added: “we were prevented from transporting and selling olive oil in the rest of the provinces, which caused a significant drop in prices.”
Where is the Turkish commercial crossing?
By the end of Operation Olive Branch, the Turkish government decided to open a commercial crossing between Afrin and Turkey in the village of Hammam, Jandaris. According to a statement by the Turkish government, the purpose of the commercial crossing is to deliver humanitarian aid and reconstruct the city of Afrin.
Enab Baladi reached out to Fawzi Hassan, vice president of Jandaris’ Local Council, who indicated that “the crossing has not yet been opened to the commercial movement and it is currently limited to military transportation between Afrin and Turkey.”
Hassan added: “No specific date has been fixed for the start of the crossing’s operations, as it is in the process of being fully equipped for the launch by building the necessary infrastructure and paving roads, in addition to other preparations. The crossing will be extremely beneficial for Afrin’s economic situation, and the project will bear fruit in the coming period.”
According to occasional statements made by Turkish officials, the economic and social development plan of Operation Olive Branch highlights that Turkey will boost Afrin’s economic and commercial vitality which decreased after the Turkish army, accompanied by the opposition, took control of the city.
According to the Spokesperson for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hami Aksoy, Turkey has recently reiterated its insistence on the temporary presence of the Turkish forces in Afrin “for the sake of the city’s development.” He added in an interview with Anadolu Agency, last July, that “Afrin is regaining its normal life pace, but the Turkish presence in the region will continue for some time in order to advance the development process in the region.”