Detritus of war litters Azaz
Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) oversee the security situation in Azaz on the roof of a building. A northern Syrian town has been laid to waste after fierce clashes. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL
Residents of Öncüpınar, a town located along the Syrian border in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis, are witnessing extraordinary scenes every day as clashes continue in Syria, just a few kilometers over the border.
Rebels from the Free Syrian Army have taken control of the border. Fancy chairs from the rebels’ own living rooms have been dragged out to border posts where rebels conduct standard border-crossing procedures. Along the way someone even carried a bed to the border, complete with linen.
Nowadays it is mainly journalists who are angling to get into the country in search of a story, and the rebels are capitalizing on this desire. The militants demand a $50 fee from each person looking to cross the border now. “Foreigners paid 600 euros the other day,” a rebel soldier tells me. “Since you are Turkish we are undercharging you.”
Militants accompany us by car to an old school building in the northern city of Azaz that has been turned into the rebels’ media center. Here a Syrian flag with President Bashar al-Assad’s face imposed on it is used as a doormat for rebel soldiers to wipe their feet.
Marks of the war in Syria can be seen everywhere you look in Azaz. The town is littered with burned tanks, damaged buildings and destroyed homes, which now serve as playgrounds for the city’s children. The building that used to function as the Azaz District Directorate was burned to the ground by rebel soldiers in the fight to secure the city. Its charred walls are now filled with anti-government graffiti, the word “freedom” scrawled across it in large painted letters. A local girls’ elementary school Bin Zeydan stands in ruins, along with many bakeries, markets and other shops, all allegedly burned down by forces of al-Assad’s government. Only one pharmacy still operates in the city, selling whatever medicine is left in the shop, as the owner says he has not received any new shipments of medicine from Aleppo for a month.
Muhammed Altuno, a 25-year-old rebel soldier buying medicine from the pharmacy, said he used to work as a police officer but left his post to join the militants two months ago. “We captured a tank from the government forces,” he said, smiling. “It is still working.”
In Azaz everyone knows someone who has died in the clashes. Azaz resident 55-year-old Besir Katmawi said his sister’s husband was killed by government forces two days after she gave birth to their fourth child. “They [the al-Assad forces] didn’t give his body [to his family] for two days. Now she is left with four children. Who is going to look after them?” he asked.
Valid Galib, a 52-year-old plumber whose shop was shelled and burned by government forces, recalls scenes of terror that played out on the town’s streets. “I hardly saved my own life,” he said, sifting through the burned materials left in the damaged shop with his scarred and burned hands. “Snipers were shooting people from the roofs of buildings. They shot dead the imam of the mosque next door before my eyes. He was my good friend,” he said, crying. Galib points to bullets that lie amid the rubble of his shop, “These are al-Assad’s soldiers’ bullets,” he said. “Show the world all of these.” k HDN