On Syrian frontier, Turks bemoan soured ties

Wed Oct 19, 2011 10:07am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Jonathon Burch

ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) - Until recently, Hamdi Esen would make the short trip across to Syria several times a month, fill his father's car up with gas, maybe buy a few bags of sugar and some cigarettes and then return home to Turkey.

But after Turkey stepped up criticism of Syria's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Esen stopped going because of long waits at the border and the hostility he faced from Syrian security officials and even some regular citizens.

"I used to drive over to Syria every week and fill up my tank. Gasoline is so much cheaper there. But now I don't go," said 31-year-old Esen as he sat chatting with friends at a roadside tea house.

"They treat us differently. It's as if they don't like us anymore."

Esen is from Antakya, the ancient city of Antioch, in Turkey's southern Hatay province, a panhandle that juts down into Syria and was once part of it.

With a Syrian mother and a Turkish father, Esen epitomizes the inhabitants of a frontier region where family ties transcend political borders and where people share a common history, culture and language.

Arabic flows as freely as Turkish on Hatay's streets as bilingual residents sit down to a plate of hummus, a staple dish in Syria and throughout the Arab world but rare in most parts of Turkey, though it is sometimes thought of as a Turkish dish.

In Harbiye, a holiday strip on the outskirts of Antakya, street vendors hang souvenir carpets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad next to those of Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to sell to passing Turkish and Syrian tourists.   Continued...