First soldiers, then teachers: Turkey widens presence in northern Syria

Gaziantep University in southern Turkey will establish an Islamic sciences faculty in Azaz, an education faculty in Afrin and a faculty of economics and administrative sciences in al-Bab, all in north-western Syria.
Saturday 05/10/2019
Syrian boys watch as a Turkish military vehicle patrols along with the US military the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkey, October 4. (AFP)
Syrian boys watch as a Turkish military vehicle patrols along with the US military the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkey, October 4. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - As the Turkish government considers a military incursion into north-eastern Syria, Ankara is widening its presence in other parts of the neighbouring country by setting up university branches.

An Islamic sciences faculty is to be opened in Syria’s Azaz, an education faculty in Afrin and a faculty of economics and administrative sciences in al-Bab, Turkey’s official Gazette said. The faculties will be created by Gaziantep University in southern Turkey.

The three towns are in north-western Syria, in regions Turkey twice since 2016 sent forces to drive back the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and Islamic State fighters to protect its border.

Gaziantep University, in the border province of Gaziantep, had establihed a vocational training school in the Syrian border town of Jarablus in 2018.

Under pressure by voters to send 3.6 million Syrian refugees home, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is stepping up efforts to create secure conditions and new infrastructure in parts of Syria. Ankara has built hospitals, restored schools and trained personnel in north-western Syria and Turkish media reports say it is planning to build an industrial zone in the region to create 7,000 jobs.

The statement about the new faculties followed a warning from Erdogan, who, on October 1, said Turkey had no choice but to act alone to set up a “security zone” in eastern Syria, given the lack of progress during talks with the United States. It was Erdogan’s most direct indication of a military incursion.

Washington regards the YPG as its most important local ally in the fight against the Islamic State and has tried to find a compromise with Ankara but Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in a phone call October 3 that Ankara would end its work with the United States on establishing the “security zone” if Washington stalled on the issue, Akar’s ministry said.

Turkey says it plans to resettle up to 3 million Syrians in 140 yet-to-be-built towns inside the “security zone.” Ankara put the cost of the project at around $26 billion and called for international funding.

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