This article is translated from the Turkish original “Samandağ izlenimleri: Sıfır komşu, sıfır bakan, çok sorun” by Ragıp Duran, published in Birdirbir.org on 18 July 2012. We mean this translation to be a continuation of an article series about Syria, the first of which can be found here.
We went to Samandağ1 for the “Evvel Temmuz” festival. While locals explain, you understand that, beyond minor harms, the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu Syria policy has destroyed the social fabric. The Peace Demonstration that couldn't be done, the Syrian camps, the incredible classiness of Samandağ people...
- I personally went to talk with the Chief of Police. I am responsible for the Organization Committee. We'll make a demonstration against war. As İHD (The Human Rights Association) and other organizations, we make our preparations. We are against an intervention to Syria. We want good neighbor relations. You know what the Chief of Police told me?
- What did he say?
- We cannot ensure your security under these circumstances.
- What do you mean, the Turkish police is not able to ensure your security within Turkish borders against whom?
- At first he didn't say anything, tried every cunning way, but then spilled the beans. The Free Syrian Army would oppose such a demonstration!
This is not the whole story.
- At nights, under cover of bringing the wounded, they bring armed men back and forth by the ambulances.
There is a huge traffic(ing) in all the bordering region, especially in the camping areas. Foreign press also wrote about this.
The camps are problematic in several aspects: First off, they are located along the borders, within the range of artillery from Assad. You cannot control the runaways. But if you aim at infiltration through the borders, of course you should put them near the border.
Another local who is interested in the issue reports:
- A migration seminar was held here, so we were able to visit the camps. Also, we have family on the Syria side. There are people going and coming back, they also tell a lot. We follow Syrian newspapers and watch Syrian television. The majority of the people in these camps are the elderly, women and children. But of course these families have their men too. We spotted five different groups in the camp population.
- The criminals in Syria. Like thieves, rapists, some people who have a criminal record but not sentences yet. They expect to join the opposition and when the Assad regime falls to return to homeland as heroes.
- Militants of all kinds of radical Islamist groups, especially Taliban, Al-Kaida and the Muslim Brothers. Even their high- and middle-ranking officials. They come and go, they are trying to administer their insider militants from here.
- There is a group called “The Soldiers of Damascus”, this is totally a hired army. They are also known as Davutoğlu's men. It's a small group, but the most money and support goes to this group.
- We encountered, another small group, the real democratic dissidents. They were many in the beginning; but in the camps they were treated very badly by the Turkish authorities and these fundamentalist groups, the ones who could afford fled to Europe, and the rest fled to Ankara or Istanbul.
- The fifth group is a bit floating. We first thought they don't belong to any of the parties, they seemed to accord with whoever is more powerful in the camp. Then we learned that there is some internal feud. The ones who were exposed are liquidized, and the rest ran away. These were Assad's agents...
As a matter of fact, Samandağ has an incredibly peaceful, calm, easy-going and cheerful identity. It has a strong and deep left-wing culture. It is also very rich in terms of religious, ethnic and language diversity; and these different sections have really positive interrelations. It is like a modern mosaic museum. It has everything, everything gets along well with everything else, all different, all equal. Moreover, they have amazing kebab and marvelous boğma-rakısı. However, Erdoğan distorted this atmosphere:
- We are not Assad-supporters or anything.
- Nusayri2 is now used as an insult. I mean, we are very uncomfortable.
- Who is fighting for what, anyway?
- The people in Ankara do not know anything about Syria. And they want to become regional power, this and that...
- Even Americans are more cautious than Erdoğan...
- Not a single proper journalist came here... They came for that aircraft occasion, and those just took some records on the coast and left immediately...
If you listen to local people's evaluations, you easily understand why the eminent Turkish media does not emphasize Samandağ, Antioch, and the Syria issue. Almost every single detail experienced here moment-to-moment refutes Erdoğan's words. In any case; most probably there exist decent journalists and authors who can write the state of mind and the problems of the local society; but we have a problem of finding place to publish them.
With all these in my mind, we started the panel “What to do against this media?” with Nazım Alpman in Akdeniz Cafe along the Samandağ coast. It is 5 pm. The temperature is somewhere around 30-35 degrees Celsius. All the chairs in the outdoors cafeteria are occupied. The elders, the youth, women, children; really crowded. It was such a beautiful panel. Especially in the question-answer part we had very nice discussions, and the way the questions were posed were so elegant and deep that we were fascinated... For instance, we made a comparison between Orwellian and Huxley-like societies. In this cute town Samandağ of our sad and lonely country.
1 Samandağ is a town and district in Hatay Province in Turkey. It is geographically to the south of Antioc, near the Turkey-Syria border.
2 A Syrian Shiite sect.