Turkish soft power powers refrigerators in rebel-held Syria


Idleb (Syria) (AFP)

In his bakery in war-torn northwest Syria, Abu Emad can finally display his mouth-watering eclairs without fear of a power cut now that he is receiving electricity from neighboring Turkey.

“Electricity is the backbone of my business,” said the delighted 31-year-old from his family business in the jihadist-dominated town of Idleb. “Without it, I can’t work.”

After years of wasting savings on unreliable private generators, he is now paying a Syrian company in Turkish liras to provide his store with an almost continuous supply of Turkish electricity.

Its buzzing refrigerators are just one facet of Ankara’s growing influence in northwestern Syria, where Turkish charities are helping displaced families by building houses.

The connection to Turkish electricity has changed the lives of many like Abu Emad, both in the city of Idlib and the wider region, who have not had a reliable supply since Damascus disconnected the taken after the area was overrun by rebels in 2012.

“We used to only bake one or two kinds of pastries, but now we’ve started to bake all kinds and fill our refrigerators because we can keep them again,” said the owner of the business.

– Hospitals, flour mills –

Outside the Idlib region, in areas that Turkey and its Syrian proxies have seized along the border since 2016, Ankara has established a de facto protectorate.

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There, Turkish currency, textbooks, road signs, post offices and telecommunications services are now part of everyday life.

But Turkish influence had so far been slower to seep into the Idlib region, where a so-called “salvation government” with ties to the former Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate still stands. the controls.

Turkey supports some rebel groups inside the stronghold, but its troops have remained strictly deployed along its edges as part of a 2020 ceasefire agreement with the Damascus regime and its main supporter Moscow .

In the city of Idlib in recent weeks, however, men in yellow vests employed by a Syrian company called Green Energy have laid cables to bring electricity from Turkey.

Director Osama Abu Zeid said the company was operating with the full approval of authorities in Ankara and Idlib.

In Idlib town and other areas near the border, it has since May started providing electricity to businesses – as well as hospitals, water stations, bakeries and flour mills – for more half the day, he said.

For now using existing public and private grids, it was also working to provide homes with 10 hours of electricity at the rate of 50 Turkish Lira ($ 5) per ampere, he said.

In recent years, residents have relied mainly on private generators, although some have also started to switch to solar power.

Abu Zeid said the plan to bring Turkey to power now was not politically motivated, but rather aimed at “alleviating the suffering of our people” and reviving the region’s economy.

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He also said the company had “no affiliation with the salvation government” which ran the Idlib region and that the administration would not share the profits.

Local authorities would only monitor the network and hold responsible anyone who intentionally damaged it, he said.

– ‘Keep the Syrians in Idleb’ –

At the gates of southern Turkey, the Idlib region is home to nearly three million people, two-thirds of whom were displaced from other parts of Syria during the decade-long conflict, according to the United Nations.

More than half live in sprawling IDP camps along the border.

In recent months, the Turkish humanitarian agency IHH has worked to transform some of these tent camps into “villages”.

By early May, he had built 15,000 small concrete block houses out of a total of 50,000 planned by various Turkish organizations, IHH director Bulent Yildirim told the Turkish press.

Ignited in 2011 by the crackdown on anti-government protests, the war in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.

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Turkey says it has already taken in 3.7 million Syrian refugees and can’t take it anymore.

Analyst Dareen Khalifa, of the International Crisis Group, said the construction of houses for the displaced or the supply of electricity in Idlib was aimed at “stopping a new wave of refugees” across the border.

“Turkey cannot afford economically or politically to absorb a new wave of refugees,” she said.

“They want to maintain the stalemate and keep the Syrians in Idlib across the border.”

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