For Syrian Refugees in Turkey, the West Has Proved Itself Worse Than Assad or ISIS

It was Bashar Assad and Islamic militants who butchered their families and took their homes, but the U.S., Britain and Germany left them to face their fate.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
Kilis, Turkey
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Syrians walk towards the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016.
Syrians walk towards the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016.Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
Kilis, Turkey

TURKISH-SYRIAN BORDER - “I don’t blame Bashar Assad anymore for what has happened to Syria. If the whole world has abandoned us like this, there must be something wrong with the Syrian people,” says Halim Abdadi, a cook in a little Syrian restaurant in a suburb of the Turkish town of Kilis, close to the Syrian border.

“Look at the western states. At the beginning of the civil war, they all told us they were supporting us, the rising Syrian people. But the moment we needed them, they forgot us. And the Gulf states as well. On the other hand, look at Assad. His friends - the Iranians and the Russians - stood by him and are loyal.”

The note of desperation and rancor voiced by Syrian refugees, now directed at the western states, is overcoming their anger and hatred of those who butchered their families and forced them into exile – the Assad regime, his allies from Russia and Iran and ISIS as well. After all, they had no expectations from the antagonists in their lives. They did however, expect more of the Obama administration, of British Prime Minister David Cameron and above all of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the little restaurant, where at noon a small bunch of refugees who couldn’t find a job that morning gather and console themselves with a dish reminding them of their lost homes, or at least some Syrian falafel rings in thin tehina, the anger towards the west is growing.

“A few months ago, everyone wanted to go to Germany and Sweden,” says Rami Kassem, an out of work builder, who is using his day of unemployment trying to brush up on his English, though he is no longer certain it will be of any use to him. “But only those who went with their entire families received financial support. Men who arrived alone to prepare the way for their families or bachelors, are treated like criminals. Some are even preparing to come back despite the situation here.”

Syrians fleeing the northern embattled city of Aleppo wait on February 5, 2016 in Bab-Al Salama, next to the city of Azaz, northern Syria, near Turkish crossing gate.Credit: AFP

Their anger is towards the Europeans who are convinced that every Syrian man is either a potential rapist or an ISIS terrorist, and more broadly towards the west, particularly the Obama administration, for doing nothing to prevent the continuing Russian airstrikes and the starving of entire villages and towns by the regime and its ally Hezbollah.

“In the west they don’t know the Syrians are an ancient nation with a proud heritage” says Abdadi. “There are a few Syrians who did bad things in Germany, but we have bad people like every other nation. But it is the fault of all of us that we didn’t handle our national tragedy. That doesn’t mean that the world leaders are not responsible. Look at David Cameron who convened a conference of nations last week in London to give us money. He doesn’t understand that only prolongs the war. We don’t need money; we need someone to do something to stop the bloodshed.”

The feelings of abandonment and alienation have fuelled a series of reports based on quotes from representatives of the Syrian opposition who took part in the failed talks last week in Geneva. They claim that Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to cut off U.S. assistance to the rebels if they refused to come to the negotiations regardless of whether their precondition of a suspension of Russian airstrikes was met.

After the talks failed, on their second day, there were further reports on how Kerry blamed the rebel leaders to their face for their responsibility in ending the talks due to their people being bombed from the air while they were in Geneva, and that he had warned them that now the Russians would decimate them in further bombings and the world wouldn’t care. On Saturday, Kerry’s spokesman finally got around to denying he had said this, but in conversations with Syrian refugees, it is easy to understand why they believe it to be true.

The west’s concentration of its entire military mission on the fight against ISIS, and not against the Assad regime, has caused another, unintentional hardship to the rebels’ strongholds, in particular Idlib in northwest Syria. The rebels and civilians living in Idlib survived over the last few years in part due to the supply of cheap gasoline, supplied by ISIS from the oilfields it captured around Mosul in Iraq. The western airstrikes have cut off ISIS’ tankers routes and caused major shortages in Idlib. Turkey has supplied some oil, but it was largely to enable the continued functioning of the local bakeries. The citizens suffering in the winter’s cold without being able to heat their homes see this is yet another example of abandonment by the west.

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