Turkish-Syrian Border: Confusion, Destruction and Grief

Andre Vltchek

Border wall between Turkish Karkamis and Syrian Jarabulus.

When we first met in 2017, the Turkish poet, Mustafa Goren, stood proudly and defiantly next to a monstrous concrete wall built on orders from Ankara. The partition has just recently separated two towns with the same culture: Turkish Karkamis and Syrian Jarabulus.

The poet then read some of his verses, and my friend, a translator of my books, originally from the city of Adana, tried to keep pace, interpreting.

The poem began with quite an unusual opening, and it warned Europe and its people:

One day, true leaders of the world will come, and they’ll cut off all the gas and petrol supplies to you, and you’ll find yourself in even deeper shit than the one into which you are throwing this part of the world! You’ll have to burn your designer clothes and shoes, just to stay warm. You forgot, but you will soon be reminded, Europe: we are all human beings!”

He was raising his right hand accusingly, shouting towards the sky. Somehow, he looked like the Soviet revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovski.

The poet was obviously indignant. It was 2017 then. Everything at the border was still raw, new, and terribly painful. Everything, good and bad, seemed to be possible: full-scale Turkish – Syria war, even a war between Turkey and Russia, or perhaps a Turkish exit from NATO and much closer alliance with Russia and Iran against the West.

Like so many patriots and thinkers in his country, Mustafa Goren strongly disliked the West. He was expressing his full-hearted support for his friends – the people and the state of Syria.

Stopping the Syrian war was all that mattered to him; it was his mission. He was sustaining himself by selling cigarettes on the street of Carsi Mahallesi; a street that hugs the borderline and now the wall.

He did not care how he was making a living, as long as he had time to create, to write, to recite. He was full of determination, zeal and optimism.


Now, when I met him one year later, things definitely looked different. It was 2018, a different era, and totally different Karkamis.

The wall was still there, as well as the Turkish military operations behind it. The poet was still living and struggling in Karkamis, too, but his face looked defeated and tired. Now he was working in a small café. He was broke. His eyes had lost all their previous shine:

“Turkey is now fighting against the European Union… in ,” he said. But somehow it did not sound convincing.

My comrades and I then drove one kilometer towards the Euphrates River; to the ancient cemetery with a commanding view of the border and the Syrian town of Jarabulus.

This has been the best place in the area to take a leak, to film the border and to observe Turkish military operations inside Syria.

This time, shrapnel was flying too close, and the explosions were loud.

Two veiled ladies who were visiting the cemetery, spotted us.

“What are you looking for in this godforsaken ,” one of them asked. She gave us a hostile, or perhaps desperate look:

“What do you think you will find here? We are tired of this fight. We are bored of this conflict. All we want to do is to leave this place; to go far, very far away…”

We heard more shells flying nearby, and more explosions.

The lady couldn’t stop:

“Go away! Don’t you understand: we don’t want any foreigners here. Foreigners are the cause of this conflict!”

We tried to find our old contacts, including Mr. Bulent Polat, a Kemalist from the opposition Republican People’s Party. But his shop on the main street was gone, hermetically sealed. Nearby, an armored vehicle was parked, unceremoniously.

Like almost everyone we spoke to in Karkamis, Mr. Polat was a strong opponent of the war. And he was especially against the Turkish involvement in it:

“I know what we are doing there, across the border! To mobilize people against Assad, the anti-government militants supported by Turkey and the West, have been dressing in official Syrian military uniforms, then shoot at the civilians, killing many. Then they say: ‘Assad did it!’ It has been happening all over Syria.”

Now Mr. Polat was gone.

Mustafa Goren, the poet, ordered tea for all of us. Then he sat down at a simple table, holding his head between two palms, before beginning to speak:

“Nobody wants to stay here, at the border, anymore. In Karkamis, there is more Syrians than Turks, now. If Syrians leave, the whole place will turn to a ghost town.”

Then he begins mixing everything together:

“Turkey is not fighting against the PKK and the Kurdish terrorist groups here and in Syria – it is fighting against the European Union. This is our own, internal issue, and if we have to die in this fight, we will!”

Such discourse can be heard all over Turkey. It is difficult and for many foreigners, hard to follow, but it is how it is. Turkey is in a complex transition: from where is obvious, but to where, almost no one knows.

“Mustafa,” I asked him softly. Despite all this pain, desperation and confusion, he is my comrade, a fellow poet. “What about Russia?”

His eyes softened up, as well as his entire facial expression:

“Russians never stabbed Turks in the back. During WWI, they helped us against the West, at Galipoli. They are honest people. We have to coordinate with the Russians…”

He nods towards the explosions.

For a while, we sit quietly, listening. Then we embrace. It is time to go.


Karkamis is getting de-populated. It is alarming but understandable. It is becoming truly dangerous to live here. Plus, there is almost no work left in this area.

The entire frontier region used to rely heavily on trade with Syria. There were strong friendships forged between the individuals and families on both sides of the border. People were visiting each other, and they were intermarrying. Goods and services were flowing between Turkey and Syria almost freely.

Now, there is a full stop. The border can only be crossed by armored vehicles, tanks, and ambulances. They are going back and forth, bringing soldiers, carrying the wounded and even corpses. No civilian can pass.

Further west, Elbeyli town is a bizarre hive of spies, a fortification. Everything here is monitored. It is because from here, the Turkish military forces are constantly invading Syrian territory. Here, no one dares to speak. To ask questions leads to immediate phone calls, arrests and interrogations.

Now, many villages around Elbeyli are half-empty. It is an eerie sight. The war has ruined entire communities.

What is thriving is the construction business. Not of the infrastructure, but of the military bases, spy antennas and above all, of the walls. An enormous, monstrous wall, which separates two countries – Turkey and Syria, in the past two inseparable sisters – is now scarring this ancient land. It is around 900 kilometers long, they say. How much money, how much concrete is being poured into it, and why?

Then the City of Killis.

We are shown destroyed walls of a house; a place “where rockets fell recently from the Syrian territory”. This is what the Turkish government uses as its justification for the invasion.

The local people have it all very clear. Several of them declare openly, but without revealing their names:

“If only the Turkish government and military would coordinate their operations with the legitimate government in Damascus!”

Things are tough in Killis. Like elsewhere along the border, businesses are closing down. An owner of a kebab stall couldn’t find any job for more than a year and had to try his luck in far-away Jakarta; in Indonesia which is much poorer than Turkey. He came back, had some luck and has now turned into an ultra-nationalist:

“Now the world can see the power of Turks!” He declared, passionately, voicing his full support for the invasion.

But here, at the border, he is clearly in the minority.

At a barbershop, “Salon Hassan”, several people are gathered, just in order to discuss politics. The most common assessment of the situation is:

“The biggest mistake is that the Turkish military is not coordinating its operations with President Assad.”

We are told that “some 8.000 of the refugees living in the camps all over the region are now returning back to Syria.”

But Turkey is hosting more than 3.5 million Syrian migrants. The situation is extremely complex, as intercommunal violence between Turks and Syrians tripled in the second half of 2017.

Turkish president Erdogan often declares that it is mainly because of his military forces operating across the border, that so many Syrian refugees now feel safe to return home. “Nonsense”, most Syrian people reply to such claims. “It is because of the Syrian army, President Assad, and his Russian and Iranian allies! Legitimate Syrian government is now winning the war. Only because of that, things are much safer for the Syrian people.”

“We love Russians here,” a local man professed, loudly. Some citizens of Killis also love Erdogan, as well as President Assad of Syria. ‘Too much love?’ Too many contradictory feelings? It is Turkey, after all. Here, nothing is ever simple.

But what is Russia here, to these people? In many parts of Turkey and all over the Middle East, more than a country, Russia became a symbol of defiance, proof that the West and its deadly designs can be confronted and stopped.


Things appear confusing, but in Turkey, they always are.

As we drive through this ancient, beautiful but wounded land, my Turkish friend and translator utters, in desperation:

“The ‘Elderdog’ (increasingly common derogatory nickname for the present leader) is going to lose during the next elections. I bet he is going to…”

“But is the Turkish policy towards NATO and towards Syria going to change, dramatically?” I wonder.

For a while, there is silence in the car.

“I wish hope,” friend, my comrade says, finally.

He doesn’t know. Of course, he doesn’t. In Turkey, anything is possible.

“I hope Turkey comes to its senses. I love this country,” I say honestly. “I am really tired of hating it.”

“So am I,” he nods.

We are literally licking a huge concrete wall. Behind it is Syria, clearly visible, beautiful.

Actually, it is all very simple. People there are fighting against terror and against the Western Imperialism.

People here, in Turkey, are still at the wrong side of the barricade. But they are waking up; many of them already understand. They may soon join those who are fighting for the survival of humanity. They may. Hopefully they will.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.


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Jul 8, 2018 6:26 PM

Optimism about clearing Turkish army and allied NATZO terrorists out of Northern Syria, now that Southern Syria is almost completely deloused. SyrPer military analyst, the reliable Cantama: “My take, at the moment, is that Turkey will abandon their supported terrorists in Idlib, Lattakia and Aleppo (as Israel, US & Jordan did with their terrorists in southern Syria), but Turkey would put up some resistance for their terrorists in northern Syria. Final thought, Idlib is full of recognized al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists among the other “ModeRats”, and Russia has been clear from day one that those must be eliminated. Turkey can not, and will not, stop the clearing out of alQaeda and ISIS. Turkey has tried to separate the “bad” terrorists from the “good” terrorists (according to Turkish regime view) in Idlib; so far it has failed because there is no good terrorist. They fight for local power, and they… Read more »

Jul 9, 2018 6:25 PM
Reply to  vexarb

Optimism confirmed BTL SyrPer 45min ago: PacificNorthWest From IWN (Islamic World News) this article which outlines the supposed deal being negotiated with the SDF: The agreement of Kurds with Syrian government: Although this agreement is not final yet, but after a few rounds of negotiations in Damascus & Qamishli between Syrian government and DFNS (Democratic Federation of Northern Syria), now we are witnessing visits that are made by Damascus delegates in Raqqa province, which shows that negotiations are serious. Before this, military forces of USA in Raqqa & DeirEzzor wouldn’t let this happen. What is published as probable details about this agreement, are as follows: Entrance of Syrian Army in Hasakah province and supporting Syria’s border with Iraq, and Trukey. This includes SAA’s branches for military recruitment, and joint checkpoints with Kurd forces. The Kurdish forces will join the Syrian Army, Syrian government will give salary & benefits to families… Read more »

Jul 8, 2018 5:42 AM

The shady people behind the shady oil company behind all the “confusion, destruction and grief” in the above article — and in many, many others:


Jul 9, 2018 5:51 AM
Reply to  vexarb

The three most evil Angloes on the planet. One is an English Lord (in fact, the Lord of English Lords); another owns the Times; the third is a Yank who controlled the Bush regime that murdered 3,000 Yanks on 911. Now they are fracking hell bent on spoiling Syrian Golan the way they have spoilt their own countries. BTL SyrPer: “Pacificnorthwest that’s shale oil in the Golan. Not easy stuff to get out, would require hydraulic fracturing and all that comes with that in order to release the kerogen (a dense tarry oil like hydrocarbon) from the rock matrix… injecting a witches brew of noxious chemicals with the water (surfactants, solvents etc.) poisoning the aquifers into which this polluted mix can migrate… said migration in fact being greatly facilitated by the micro fracturing of the rock matrix. Even after Syria has recovered the Golan from these Crusader-Apartheid-Death-squad state criminals, the… Read more »

Jul 6, 2018 8:42 PM

More good news from Syria. Penny says (BTL SyrPer) recent victories have opened border crossings for trade from Jordan in the South to Turkey in the North, a great step for renewal of prosperity in our region : Penny Very good news that the crossing [Jordan border) was liberated 🙂 I’d read reports of SAA and Russian convoys en route to the area To take this crossing was of the utmost importance \as it connects the M5 highway, which runs from Turkey’s border crossing at Tell Rifaat (which has been secured by Russia and Turkey) Russian/Turkish deal for Tell Rifaat. The New Silk Road [TM Pepe Escobar] through Aleppo, Damascus and straight on through to Jordan is a vital artery for trade, prosperity and the rebuilding of Syria. In my opinion it fits into President Assad’s 4 seas strategy. Syria still has to take back the Northern border- It seems… Read more »

Jul 6, 2018 12:32 PM

“Speech is free”.

Now, where did I see that?

sea eagle
sea eagle
Jul 6, 2018 4:12 AM

Now that the elections are over the operation in Syria is over as well. As a Turk I cant really understand the present governments anti Assad stand. As an individual I support Assad and Russian intervention against Western created radical factions and supposed rebels. As the author says anything is possible in Turkey. To wit you have a country hellbent on going back into middle ages when it was nearly becoming a westernized democracy.. Everyone with any sense in this country is despondent about the future.

Jul 5, 2018 5:32 PM

A very powerful article by the author.Thank you.

Jul 5, 2018 8:16 AM

Andre Vitchek who has reported so many wars, shows powerfully through his friend the Turkish poet and the locals caught in this one, how peoples’ feelings change about war. First the excitement, the buzz, the light in the eye; what Homer 800BC describes as “anger, sweeter than honey”; and Leonardo 1500AD calls “the bestial frenzy of war”. Then the end, as described by the great Jewish poet Ha’Nagid fighting for the Muslims against the Christians of Spain: “A young war is like a young whore; all the men run after her. / An old war is like an an old whore; her first customers no longer interested.” So it is with the local Turks who say to Vitchek: “If only the Turkish government and military would coordinate their operations with the legitimate government in Damascus!” Good news may be on the way, according to SyrPer analyst, the reliable Canthama, in… Read more »

Jul 5, 2018 2:09 PM
Reply to  vexarb

Green shoots in the vineyard; BTL the Saker:.

_smr on July 05, 2018 · at 7:51 am EST/EDT
Indeed there are rumors that in the last few days the Syrian government and the Kurdish authorities have agreed on a wide-ranging win-win framework for a Kurdish autonomous region inside the Syrian Arab Republic. Hopefully, we hear more soon.

Jul 5, 2018 5:23 AM

Some of the terrorists setting the ME aflame for the greater glory of Anglo Zio Capitalism were trained in the UK at Sandhurst but most of them, like the one who was killed today, were trained in the U$A at Langley, Virginia. Ziad Fadel, editor of SyrPer, quips: “A picture of the Caliph’s son, Hudhayfa Albadri Al-Saamirraa`iy, all tarted up in Islamist commando garb and getting ready for the big voyage to the afterlife where 72 Virginians await him.”

Also according to Ziad, Uncle $cam is losing interest in Syria oil (John Bolton calls it “a sideshow”) and is leaving it to the old colonial powers, Britain and France. Expect more reports like the one I posted yesterday about a British aircraft crashing while ferrying UK soldiers in Syria.

Jul 5, 2018 10:17 AM
Reply to  vexarb

The Sunday Times and Haaretz reported that the RAF bombed pro-Assad forces who dared to get too close to their own town/redoubt of al-Tanf. Apart from the Yanks: this was described as an “SAS training base” – so we did not withdraw our special forces from there last year? The full article is behind a paywall: so I am guessing it will not categorise this as an act of aggression; in support of an illegal intervention – neither sanctioned by the UN or Parliament; a de facto invasion in breach of International Humanitarian Law; and a Crime Against the Peace: via the immoral prolonging of a conflict by training terrorist proxies Maghawir al-Thowra. Those who run Treason May are running their own private capitalist army: and the UK taxpayer is footing the bill for their training and deployment. O, and we damaged a £44mn C-130J to boot …but no one… Read more »

Jul 7, 2018 5:08 PM
Reply to  vexarb

Further to my warning that StTheresa will be sending British boots deeper into the quicksands; today BTL SyrPer, posted by the usually reliable Bundy☭

SAA handed over to Britain two SAS spetsnaz men (22th regiment) caught on the border with Iraq

Jul 5, 2018 3:03 AM

Which Turkish-Syria border: the old one or the new one that Erdogan’s army is carving out right now deep in Syria? He even got re-elected recently, be it under dubious circumstances. He concentrated much more power in himself as president, locking up much opposition, including the press.

Imagine the cries of indignation in the UK etc. if Nethanyahu had done the same?

Jul 6, 2018 12:52 AM
Reply to  Antonyl

i’d imagine they’d still be clapping if netanyahu had done it! or at most there would be murmurings about how even “beautiful israel” isn’t immune from “populist sentiments”!

Fair dinkum.
Fair dinkum.
Jul 4, 2018 10:51 PM

‘Strongly disliked the West’
From my experience, most of us just want to get on with our ‘quiet lives of desperation’
It is the world’s depots that are destroying anything and everything that is good.

Jul 6, 2018 1:44 AM
Reply to  Fair dinkum.

most of whom are bought and paid for by western governments/corporations (the line is squidgy at best)!