Syrian Refugees In Turkey
By Lilly Martin
24 June, 2014
Syrian women are not downtrodden and voiceless in general. The west portrays Arab women as lacking rights or oppressed compared to American women. There are differences, but in some cases the Syrian women have more rights.
For example: the Syrian civil code, or law, is based on the FRENCH civil code, which I suppose goes back to the period of French occupation 1920-1946. Legally speaking, the Syrian legal system follows this French pattern. However, when it comes to FAMILY LAW, such as: marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, the Syrian system in the Islamic law. By Islamic law a women retains her maiden name, and she has full possession of all monies and properties she may own prior to marriage, and after marriage. Her husband can never ask for, or coerce her to give him money or property. Her stuff is hers forever.
Socially: the Syrian mother rules the house. This also goes back to the Koran, since it states that the home is commanded by the woman. The man’s job is to provide financially, but her job is to organize and conduct the working of the home. She asks for ‘stuff’ and it had better show up, or else. Syrian women are very strong personalities. You can say they are demanding, aggressive and they know how to complain. I have thought this probably comes from the fear of possibly being oppressed by males, so they over compensate and come out looking stronger than men. It is well known that Syrian homes are run by the female. Men dress up and look important when they leave the house to go into the real world, but at home the female is running the show.
Of course, in every stereo-type and generalization there are glaring exceptions to the case.
Syrian women are all educated. Syria is compulsory education at least through the 9th grade, and most do go through the 12th. Not everyone goes to University, but it is FREE of charge to anyone who will study and keep high grades. Syria is full of female Teachers, Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers and Judges. The Syrian government has a number of high level females, and the Parliament has a fair share of females.
Now I have set the stage, with some back story, and I will begin to tell you about some Syrian female refugees. The ‘revolution’ began in March 2011. The area surrounding Idlib (North East from Latakia) was a hot-bed of rebels. These were the first FSA. They got the cooperation of Turkey, a key sponsor of the crisis, and they took their wives, children and aged parents to Turkey, Gaziantep, and created a tented refugee camp there. This was the very first refugee camp of the Syrian crisis. I can look up the actual date, but I suppose it must be later 2011. Right away we heard of Turkish guards there who raped Syrian women and girls. Syrian women are not afraid to yell rape. They do not have any cultural hang-ups about the word Rape. They aren’t afraid of their husband, brother or father killing them out of ‘honor’ like they do in Pakistan. Syria doesn’t have many rapes, but their fair share of crimes, as does everywhere. But, rape is treated as a crime, just like stealing or murder, and there is no fear factor for a women or girl to state she was raped.
There were even many pregnancies because of these rapes. I think that the Turkish guards, who had no previous experience with refugee camps, probably thought they could get away with abusing these poor refugees, because they looked at them as homeless, and without rights. They probably regarded them as political pawns in a game, and since all the males were away in Syria fighting with FSA, these women and girls were ‘fair-game’.
The source of these stories were the women themselves. They gave many interviews about these claims to journalists who visited the camps. They began to demand to go HOME, back to Syria. They claimed not only the abuse, but also no proper shelter, no toilets, not enough water, and general bad living conditions. Turkey gets heavy snow in winter, so this is not the best place to sleep in a tent.
But, the Turkish government said “You can not go home.” That is when they put up the barbed wire and guard towers. I hope at the same time they also told their guards to STOP raping. The refugee camp turned into a concentration camp. Women wanted to go home to Syria, but Turkey could not allow it, because they needed the refugees in order to send an international message that: #1. Syria’s government is so bad on the civilians, that they have to flee to Turkey; #2. The refugees are coming more and more, proving the crisis is getting worse, not better. #3. Turkey is the savior of poor Syrians.
What does Turkey get out of housing the refugees? #1. They make a huge amount of money off international aid agencies who are providing for the refugees. #2. They make huge amounts of money off Saudi Arabia , from donations to help the refugees, as well as other Arab Gulf countries. #3. Turkey enjoys the PR image of caring, modern, democratic country, worthy of EU membership, because of their humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee influx. (Way to go Turkey!!!)
Why won’t Turkey allow Syrians to return home? #1. It would appear that the crisis in Syria is improving, and they do not want that image going out. They must make the refugees look bigger and bigger. If they can’t keep the refugees inside Turkey, then there is no more crisis. They need to crisis to last forever.
The Turkish started out paying the Syrian refugees $1,000.00 per month for a family of 4. They were promised it would not be a long war. The FSA were also on a payroll, but they were paid in Turkey in US dollars by a Saudi official. I do not know what pay-checks are being paid now.
During this crisis, Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as UN rep, has visited Gaziantep at least 2 times. I left messages for her at the UN, but she never replied. I had wanted to tell her that the women and children she was visiting were not just innocent victims of war, but in fact were part of the Free Syrian Army, they were the wives, daughters and sisters of the rebels.
But, after all is said and done, those women and children are not all there out of support of FSA. There are plenty of women who are not asked for their political stance, they are forced into living as a refugee just because their father, husband, brother chose to be a rebel. They may support that, or not.
I feel very strongly that those women and children in the various refugee camps have suffered a great deal, and that it is time for them to come home.
For example: I volunteer at a tented refugee community in Latakia, they are all from Aleppo, and have been here almost 2 years. These are from the same sect as those who went to Turkey, but these people did not want to play into the hands of the enemies of Syria. They preferred to suffer out the war right here in their own country, where at least they could be assured of free education and medical, as well as help on food, etc.
The Syrian refugees in Turkey have not had any education for 3 years. Those children have lost 3 years of learning. How will they catch up? When? The UN does check on them, and did a special seminar about how to promote education. But nothing happened. Turkey can not help with education, since they do not read or write either Arabic or English. The Syrian educational system is all Arabic and English and the Turkish system is Turkish only. That puts all the burden on UN, and they can’t bear it.
I think all parties thought that the Syrian crisis would be over soon and these minor inconveniences would be short lived. However, that was under-estimated.
I feel very strongly that the women and children of Gaziantep should be brought home to Syria before Sept 10th 2014, as that is back to school day. I want those kids to start the school year in Syria. The schools exist and they are all free, the teachers are here, all we need is those kids to come home.
The problem is: #1. Turkey will not allow them to leave, for the reason previously detailed, and #2. WHERE would they go? Their homes were mainly in the North of Syria, which still has terrorist infestation. We would need to designate a SAFE area for them, and then prepare homes or tents. This is do-able.
I could ask for Angelina Jolie, or others like her, to be an international neutral party to negotiate with Turkey, in order for them to be released. I can imagine Turkey and even the UN would want to complain, “But it is not safe for them to go home.” But, we can see that the people of HOMS have returned home, and the refugees from Lebanon are now pouring into the Qalamoun area, since it is safe again. There would have to be a safe area for them to settle at, for the purpose of getting the kids plugged back into educational system.
Lilly Martin is an American woman living in Latakia with her Syrian husband and their family. She has not been an activist until a war came to her doorstep. Now she is angry and frustrated by the international forces that are perpetuating a terrorist war on her country and her home.