Local officials hail Turkish largesse in Syria’s Afrin
Turkey has been "generous" in the help it has given to the people of liberated parts of northern Syria, especially those in the northwestern Afrin region.
At a forum organized Tuesday by the Ankara-based Center for Middle East Studies (ORSAM) to mark the first anniversary of Turkey's Operation Olive Branch, speakers discussed the current situation in Afrin in terms of education, security and the local economy.
Speaking at the event, Professor Ahmet Uysal, head of ORSAM, said that Turkey had been among the biggest aid contributors to the people of liberated Afrin, Manbij and Al-Bab.
"It's hard to build, but easy to destroy. Turkey is helping us rebuild Syria," he said.
Uysal went on to note that liberated parts of northern Syria "have seen increasing economic activity; most basic commodities are now found in local markets".
Oytun Orhan, ORSAM's coordinator for Syria Studies, recalled that Operation Olive Branch's primary aim had been the "total elimination" of the YPG/PKK terrorist group from the region.
"It was also aimed at securing the border cities between Syria and Turkey," he said. "The operation had political and social objectives in addition to military ones."
The YPG/PKK terrorist group, he went on to say, had failed to maintain "total territorial control" of Afrin as it had in the past.
According to Orhan, Turkey's role in stabilizing these areas had allowed thousands of displaced residents to return to their homes in both Afrin and Idlib.
In January of last year, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch with the stated aim of purging Afrin of YPG/PKK terrorist elements.
On March 18, the 58th day of the operation, Afrin was liberated by Turkish troops backed by the Free Syrian Army.
At Tuesday's forum, Said Süleyman, the head of Afrin's local council, praised Turkey's continued support for the region in the education, health and security fields.
"Every day, about 45,000 students attend 249 schools in northwestern Syria," Süleyman said. "About 1,500 of the teachers at these schools receive their salaries from Turkey's Maarif Foundation."
Süleyman called on the international community -- and Turkey in particular -- to help Afrin's local council set up a university in the region.
He went on to note that at least 23 medical centers were currently providing health services to Afrin residents.
Regarding the recent upgrade of local infrastructure, Süleyman said the council had managed to solve the region's chronic water distribution problem, while providing at least 10 hours a day of electricity to homes in Afrin.
He also vowed to take additional steps to improve the local security situation, such as instructing citizens to register their firearms with the authorities and issuing identity cards to local residents.
Nassir Hussu, head of the Afrin Chamber of Industry and Trade, said the region had been known in the past for its bustling local economy.
"Afrin used to be known as Syria's main exporter of olive oil," he said, adding that -- in a sign of the region's improving economy -- more than 100 money-transfer offices would soon be opened in the area.
"The average monthly income in Afrin currently stands at $150, compared to less than $100 in regime-held areas," he asserted.
Hussu also dismissed recent claims that shipments of Afrin olive oil had been stolen while en route from Turkey to international markets.
"These reports are baseless," Hussu told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of Tuesday's forum.
Earlier this month, some western media outlets incorrectly reported that olive oil produced in Afrin had been subject to "theft" while passing through Turkey.