Syria's city of Afrin has a peaceful and lively environment now thanks to the city being liberated from the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) by a Turkish military operation. The city has now become a source of hope for other Syrian refugees in Turkey who expect Ankara to liberate their hometowns as well.
"There is peace and security in the Turkish-controlled cities of Syria near the border. We look forward to the end of the war that has been ravaging our country for years. We will go back," Zaliha Badr, who came as a refugee five years ago after a long and painful journey from the northeastern Syrian city of Ras al-Ayn, told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Afrin had been a major hideout for the YPG since July 2012, when the Bashar Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without a fight. However, local people have been suffering from the atrocities and oppression of the terrorist organization. With the objective of 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.
Gayidah Najat, who lost her husband and two children in a bomb attack on their home by the YPG in the northern Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, stressed that her only option was to take refuge in Turkey with her remaining seven children.
"[President] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the protector of all the oppressed; he takes good care of us. We hope we will return to our countries one day with wonderful memories," she added.
Aisha Ferdani, another mother who came to Turkey with her five children three years ago, underscored that the terrorist organization destroyed their hometowns with bombs and when they understood that they could not live in a war-torn city, they took shelter in Turkey.
The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered Afrin town center and liberated it from terrorists on March 18, 2018. Following the operations, Turkey has also been involved in efforts to rebuild the town's infrastructure, as well as health and education institutions.
Afrin a model for Turkish reconstruction efforts
Syrians refugees, who returned to Afrin following the liberation of the city from the terrorist organization, are living in peace and feeling secure in the reconstructed city only one year after the Turkish operation.
With Ankara's reconstruction efforts, the city has undergone a great transformation in the fields of security, education, health and economy, leading to the return of more than 200,000 Syrian refugees back to their homes. The return has been made possible thanks to the Turkish military and the FSA's elimination of the YPG from the city.
In the aftermath of the operation numerous Turkish humanitarian agencies, including the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), rushed to help the locals by delivering TL 56 million worth of humanitarian assistance to 358 different points.
In addition to humanitarian aid, Turkey also launched reconstruction projects for both physical and administrative infrastructures in a bid to make the city more livable and peaceful again.
The houses and the main roads demolished by the YPG were restored and the ditches dug by the terrorist organization were covered, while several hospitals and health centers, which provide free treatment and medicine, were established. Afrin hospital, formerly used as headquarters by YPG forces, was repaired and opened for service. Turkish doctors were sent to help local doctors treat thousands of patients.
Local forces were also trained for three to six months to establish sustainable local security structures. Trained security forces are now guarding the peace in the city center and over 300 adjacent villages. The Minister of Justice also helped the city open courts, prosecution offices and extensive judicial facilities.
The state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) also rolled up its sleeves to restore the mosques demolished by the YPG terrorist organization. The presidency has completed the restoration of three mosques so far, while the restoration processes of 36 mosques are continuing.
A new road connecting Turkey and the city was built and a new border crossing was opened on Nov. 9 near Afrin to speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid and stimulate the city economically. To strengthen the development of the province economically, Turkey has established new plants to process olives, which Afrin is known for, with its previous $20 million international market volume, and founded facilities to introduce olive-based productions to the international markets.
Turkey also did not hesitate to invest in Afrin's future by restoring 248 schools to educate the children of Afrin. Some 43,000 pupils have returned to schools, and 1,571 educators, principals and janitors have been employed in the schools. Nearly 2,200 existing teachers received vocational training. Arabic and Kurdish language textbooks and stationery supplies were distributed for free by Turkish nongovernmental agencies.