Turkey puts down roots in a corner of war-torn Syria

For The Los Angeles Times:

Afrin, Syria —

This pocket of northwestern Syria is starting to look a lot like neighboring Turkey.

Many buildings bear signs in Turkish in addition to Arabic. Portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan adorn public schools, where students learn Turkish as a second language instead of English or French. Three new hospitals built by Turkey are run by Turkish administrators and fly the Turkish flag.

Over the last two years, Turkey and an alliance of Syrian rebels it supports have taken control of 1,500 square miles here, driving out both Islamic State militants and Kurdish militias fighting the Syrian government.

After years of civil war, the local Syrian population has welcomed the takeover for the measure of stability it has brought. But some also worry that the area will permanently lose its Syrian character and in effect become a Turkish colony.

“People are in a way more comfortable now,” said Hatem, a pediatrician from the embattled city of Aleppo who works in a hospital near Jarabulus who asked that his last name not be used out of fear for family in other parts of Syria. “When this place was under Islamic State, women could not go outside, you couldn’t even smoke.”

“But they are also confused even now, about the education system, about who is running the place, about all the people carrying guns,” he said. “They don’t know what will happen in the future.”

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