Locals in liberated Afrin enjoy better standards with new infrastructure, democratic assemblies

MIRAY AKIN
ISTANBUL
Published 15.02.2019 00:05

It has been more than a year since Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch, aiming to clear terrorists from northwestern Syria's northern Afrin province, brought stability to the area, which had been a terrorist nest since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. After the operation was successfully completed with the liberation of Afrin city center in March 2018, Turkey has been involved in efforts to rebuild the town's infrastructure, including health, security and education institutions as well as the formation of democratic assemblies for the representation of people.

The local council of 30 members was established under the name Afrin Liberation Congress with the participation of over 100 representatives, and seven assemblies were set up, which include all three major ethnic groups in the region, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, to represent themselves.

The most important criterion to select new members of the congress was not allowing anyone with an affiliation with the PKK's Syrian wing, the People Protection Units (YPG), to take part in the administration of the city. The YPG, which claimed its ultimate aim as establishing an autonomous region in parts of northern Syria, made the northern city their major hideout when Syria's Bashar Assad regime left the city to the terror group without a fight in 2012.

With the objective of re-establishing security and stability along Turkey's borders and protecting Syrians from oppression, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, 2018 to remove YPG forces from Afrin, and on March 18, the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered Afrin town center and liberated it from terrorists.

"The operation was carried out accordingly to re-shape Turkish foreign policy towards Syria," Oytun Orhan, a Syrian studies expert from the Middle East Strategies Research Center (ORSAM) said Tuesday, addressing a panel pertaining to Afrin after the first anniversary of the Olive Branch Operation.

Oytun said to put an end to the YPG's field control in the area, expelling terrorists from the region and establishing a mechanism based on the local balances instead of an administrative structure established by the YPG were the initial mainstay for Ankara's motivation. While positive steps have been taken each day since the anti-terror operation, the local assembly has had a hand in establishing a police force to maintain the security of entry-exit points and protection of the city.

Turkey started to train Syrians to become local police in Afrin, including 620 Syrian police who received training with the contribution of the Police Academy Presidency and the participation of special operations forces on intervention in social incidents, general discipline, residential district, operation education, destroying improvised explosives and crime scene investigation.

Speaking at the same panel, Said Suleiman, the head of Afrin's local assembly, stressed that they are also working on opening a land registry cadaster to identify land owners as well as applying plate licenses to control the demographic structure of the city.

"The return to normal life in Afrin is gaining speed, including a university that will soon be established in the city with the support of Turkey," Suleiman underscored.

Reiterating the need for education in the city, ORSAM Chair Ahmet Uysal said the mixed language education to be given in the university will support the efforts to revive the city life in Afrin.

With the aim of fulfilling such a basic need of the local people, Suleiman said they have opened 249 schools that serve 45,000 students and restored all the schools that were once damaged by the terrorist attacks.

Similar to the efforts exerted by the assembly, Turkey also helped renovation and restoration work as well as continued to support delivering sports equipment to several schools in the city. Accordingly, on Feb. 7, Turkey's official from the southern Hatay province distributed football and table tennis equipment as well as backpacks and jerseys among the students. Ankara has also opened football and basketball training programs for students and organized sports competitions across the city.

In the field of health, Turkey has opened many hospitals and health centers, which provide free treatment and medicine, paving the way for more than a thousand patients to be treated almost every day. ın spite of Turkey's efforts to rebuild the city despite six years of hegemony by the terrorist organizations, the YPG's continuous existence in the neighboring city of Tal Rifat still poses a threat to stability in Afrin.

On the issue, Nasir Husso, the head of Afrin Chamber of Industry and Trade, said the establishment of security to the full extent is leading to and economic flourish and to the expediting of development in the city.

As the operation was completed in 58 days, the infrastructure of the city has not deteriorated, which encouraged investors to consider the yield capacity of the region, Husso stressed.

Indicating that the only export product in the region consisted of olives, Husso underscored that they are trying to build an Afrin agricultural chamber to expand capacity, which envisages a support system for the export of agricultural, textile and industrial products. With the aim of reviving the economy of the city, Turkey also helps local people build olive oil facilities in the town, where agriculture is the main source of income for residents.

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