Recently I have been thinking of the fate of two cities: Aleppo and Gaziantep. One is in Syria for now, and the other is in Turkey. With the rumors about intense street fighting, I can only feel sorry for the industrious citizens of Aleppo. Aleppo and Gaziantep are in fact twin cities. Just visit the bazaar of both, and you will see the similarity. Aleppo and Antep are in fact twins that were kept apart. In Ottoman times, the empire had three main economic centers: Istanbul, Cairo and Aleppo. And when Aleppo was the regional center, its periphery satellites were Antep, Antakya and Urfa. Now is the time to start thinking about the fates the twins. Do you think the violence that is affecting one will have consequences for the other? We have to take a deeper look.
Aleppo is only about 100 kilometers from Gaziantep. About a year ago, there were taxis from Aleppo waiting in line at the Gaziantep airport. Why? Just to take their customers back to Aleppo. The business people of Aleppo had started to use the Gaziantep airport for their overseas travels. The taxis from Aleppo used to bring them to the airport and then take them back. In 2011, about 1 million Syrians entered Turkey through the border. Visas between Turkey and Syria were abolished in 2009. From 2009 to 2010, the number of Syrians coming to Turkey increased about 76 percent. Everything was moving in the right direction. The twin cities met and kind of liked each other. And now this? It is like a badly directed horror movie, if you ask me. That is where we are at the moment.
Why Aleppo and Antep were twins that were kept apart? You need to go back to Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 that effectively drew borders around here using a ruler. It was indeed “the peace that ends all peace.” Just Google the Sykes-Picot Agreement maps to see what I mean. Historically Aleppo and Antep were both part of Ottoman province of Haleb. Aleppo was the capital of the province while Antep was the kaza. Aleppo was much bigger and economically much more prosperous than Antep back then. Look how it is now. Today the economic capabilities of Gaziantep are much more diversified and sophisticated than that of Aleppo.
Firstly, I do admit Aleppo was cut off from the Anatolian cities on which it depended heavily for commerce. Moreover, it was also separated from most of Mesopotamia, which also harmed its economy. All thanks to Sykes-Picot. Then Antakya province, which also contained the İskenderun port, was annexed to Turkey in 1939. Aleppo thus lost its main port and was left in total isolation in Syria. Secondly, if Sykes-Picot is the first to blame, the Syrian Baathist regime is definitely the second to explain the isolation of Aleppo. While Turkey started to open up starting from the beginning of the 1980s, nothing comparable in terms of economic integration and liberalization happened in Syria. Syria only isolated Aleppo further while Antep started to become part of the global world. Manufacturing industry exports of Antep are around $5 billion, while Aleppo’s are only $370 million. Thirdly have you seen the list of largest 1,000 industrial companies in Turkey? Istanbul Chamber of Industry compiles the dataset. There are 36 companies in the list from Gaziantep. In 1997, there were only 17 companies from Gaziantep on this list.
Could Syria tensions influence the ethnic-sectarian mosaic of Turkey directly? It is all about having an inclusive regime of wealth creation. If the allocation is really market based, then there is no problem. Turning inclusive into extractive is bad for the mosaic.