Amid currency crisis, Ankara goes to build roads in Syria

ANKARA: Turkey is planning a road network to link the main cities in the Euphrates Shield area in Aleppo with its southern provinces of Gaziantep and Kilis.

The two provinces have been home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Gaziantep is just 92 kilometers from Aleppo.

The Turkish government will build the roads in cooperation with local councils in Aleppo, with Syrian technicians and engineers expected to be hired along with Turkish engineers.

The cost of the project and its schedule have yet to be announced.

The main cities to be linked by the project in war-torn Syria are Azaz, Al-Bab, Jarablus, Mareh, Al-Rai and Akhtarin.

Turkish construction companies will provide local councils with equipment needed for a fast road network, and asphalt will be brought from Turkey.

Syria’s civil war has wreaked havoc on the country’s transport network, and some cities in the region have already been supported by Turkey in efforts to repair and upgrade road links with nearby villages.

The project will not only build social bridges between refugees and their relatives in Syria, but will also offer Turkey a new market for investments and trade, starting with basic needs such as food, clothing and construction materials.

In a similar move, Turkey’s pro-government business association MUSIAD recently announced plans to open a trade center in northern Syria to develop business and commercial opportunities in Azaz and nearby regions.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said the project is part of a long-term vision by Ankara.

“Turkey wants to be influential in the reconstruction process of Syria. It doesn’t only aim at building its trade infrastructure, but wants to facilitate economic integration and increase the welfare of the local people,” he told Arab News.

Orhan also said that in the event of a security risk, Turkish and Free Syrian Army soldiers could be deployed through the modernized land corridor.

The project also has a humanitarian dimension with Ankara recently calling for international and regional help to manage a refugee crisis that is becoming more acute with each passing day.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Germany in late September and management of the refugee flow is expected to rank high on the agenda.

“Turkey is in regular contact with Russia, Germany and France over better handling of the refugee flow. These countries may also offer financial support to this project,” Orhan said.

Turkish and Russian authorities are preparing for “a four-party summit” on Syria to be held in early September in Istanbul. The summit will concentrate on the reconstruction of Syria and will include Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, but not Iran.

However, Ankara faces added challenges meeting the costs of the reconstruction project with the Turkish lira weakening to record low against dollar in recent days.

Considering the financial meltdown in the country, it is unclear how Ankara will be able to continue with the rebuilding of Syria. Experts believe that Turkey will lead the construction efforts, but will press for financial help from the global community.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an independent Syria analyst, said burden-sharing by other countries, as well as unlocking EU funds, are important to ease the economic costs of this project. 

“The oil production and sale in the region will help local authorities to cover the costs soon by its own resources,” he told Arab News.

“Considering the financial difficulties Turkey is going through, Ankara will mainly use the EU funds it received so far to help Turkey manage the refugee flow,” Sohtaoglu said.

The EU will also provide funding depending on the political transition in Syria, he said. 

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