Due to Ramadan the weddings are postponed. On July 19, just before Ramadan, the Bab al-Hawa border gate at an approximately five-kilometer distance from the Reyhanlı-Cilvegözü border gate was seized by Syrian mujahids. Then the flag of the Free Syrian Army was raised. In this way Idlib and the area all around Idlib came under the control of the Syrian mujahids completely. Silent and uneventful days began on the Reyhanlı-Idlib line.
One of the reasons underlying the Syrian mujahids’ achievement on July 19 may be the crisis regarding the RF-4E military reconnaissance aircraft. It is possible to see the effects of the jet crisis clearly in Reyhanlı. It can be easily observed that after the crisis Turkey’s reservations about acting were removed. Military units were reinforced with more ammunition and weaponry. Reyhanlı State Hospital is filled with civilians and soldiers of the Free Syrian Army who were wounded in clashes. Now the ambulances are openly carrying casualties and sick people from the Syrian border. Semi-trailer trucks and lorries are taking aid to the border. Antiques and handwritten books have begun to be delivered to Reyhanlı from Syria. The presence of this black market shows both that the plundering has started and also that Syrians have again started using cash.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) announced that the number of Syrian refugees who arrived since April 2011 is over 65,000 and that by July 20 the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey totaled 43,387. I don’t think that the number of refugees announced by AFAD reflects the actual number. I would guess the actual number of the refugees is around 100,000. For the last few months there has been a dense settlement of Syrians in Turkish border provinces and districts, including Reyhanlı. The settlement is increasing. One can’t find a house for rent. Even İstanbul has started to receive refugees from Syria. The soldiers and military officers wandering around Reyhanlı with the uniform of the Syrian Armed Forces on them are clear indicators of the fact that the defectors from the Syrian Army have increased. Each Syrian civilian and soldier coming to Reyhanlı has a different story, but they don’t want to speak. They just want to live peacefully. They abstain from releasing their identities and having their photos taken. They are afraid that their relatives in Syria may be hurt and that they may be tortured when they return to their country. Their cell phones are filled with photos and videos of the tyranny. They provide communication thanks to Skype and Turkish GSM operators that cover border regions of Syria in their coverage area.
Apricots, grapes, pomegranates, figs and white jasmine abound in Reyhanlı. On trees the songs of doves, kingfishers and yellow-vented bulbuls are overlapping. Marsh harriers are hunting their prey. Will Syria, Reyhanlı’s next-door neighbor, enter a new period in which only birds’ singings is heard instead of gunshots? Our hopes, desires and efforts are for this end.
Turkey didn’t abstain from welcoming Syrian refugees. In Turkey’s tradition there is no such thing as closing border gates. There is accepting people and providing accommodation for them. However, isn’t it time for Ankara to implement the 1951 Geneva Convention regardless of geographical limitations? In other words, Ankara, which offers “temporary asylum” and “temporary residence permits” to citizens of countries that aren’t members of the European Union, and which gives “refugee status” only to citizens of European Union member countries, should now get rid of this double standard. The years when people were divided into two categories such as “Europeans and others” have passed. In order for Turkey to embrace its “relative” geography not nominally but actually, it should abolish legal approaches belonging to years in which Turkey was “more occidental than the West.” In this regard, Turkey should abolish geographical limitations and acknowledge the “refugee status” for Syrian refugees.