A newly organised regional campaign is spurred by difficult winter conditions facing Syrians, but may grow to help people in need elsewhere.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 11/01/13
Aleppo residents wait in line to obtain bread. The delivery of mobile bakeries to Syria is one goal of the regional humanitarian effort. [AFP]
In late December, Turkey launched an international campaign to ease suffering in Syria that is attracting support from private organisations in the Balkans.
The volunteer-based campaign named Kış Geldi, Suriye İçin Bir Ekmek, Bir Battaniye (Winter Came, Bread and a Blanket for Syria) may develop into a programme to assist other countries as well, organisers said.
The campaign is being conducted under the co-ordination of Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency and with the participation of humanitarian assistance organisations, NGOs, professional organisations and media.
Some high-profile figures in Turkey, such as Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay and Mehmet Gormez, head of the religious affairs directorate, donated a month's salary to the campaign, while Gormez declared the last Friday prayer in 2012 as a "Friday to aid Syria" to collect donations from the Sunni Muslim community.
The aid will first target the shortages of water and electricity of victimised people living in Syria, not Syrian refugees in Turkey, while mobile bakeries are also expected.
Speaking recently at the inauguration conference for the campaign at Istanbul's Haliç Congress Centre, Gormez called on all people, regardless of the faith or sect, to support the campaign.
"The tragedy in Syria belongs not only to Muslims; it is a common tragedy of humanity."
For a year and a half, the Turkish Red Crescent has been supplying the needs of Syrian people either in tent cities or at the borders. The institution is the only authorised body to convey the collected aid to all regions of the country.
Speaking to SETimes, Turkish Red Crescent head Ahmet Lütfü Akar said that media reports show an increased need in Syria for foodstuffs.
"They have no wheat, no farina, no fuel to make the bakeries operate," Akar said. "So, this new campaign is of utmost importance and meaningful for two reasons: to make it alive the hopes of needy Syrian people to survive and to sustain our previous efforts to help Syrian people."
Last week, NGOs in Macedonia kicked off its Bread and a Blanket for Syria campaign, which is the first public effort in the country to collect aid for Syrian people.
"We are also people that have experienced torture on our own skin and we are well aware of the significance of the solidarity, so we can't remain still and be satisfied with a polite expression of regret," Jasmin Redzepi, a spokesman for the NGO Legis, told SETimes.
The UN World Food Programme announced recently that it faces problems distributing humanitarian aid to the more than 1 million people in Syria suffering from hunger because of strife in the country.
The security situation and the inability to use the Syrian port Tartus makes the distribution of assistance difficult, programme spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said. Although the civil war is making headlines worldwide, many people in Macedonia don't have a lot of information about the situation in Syria.
"It is only what I hear on TV. I know that there is war going on, but I don't have a lot of information," Bajram Islami of Skopje told SETimes.
"I would like to help. I just don't know how," Mirushe Bekri of Skopje told SETimes. "There were no such campaigns in Macedonia until now."
As a result, one part of the effort includes informing Macedonians of the need, Redzepi said.
"Our purpose, first of all, is to affirm this issue, to inform the citizens of the condition of Syrian people and the refugees [and] to inform the people in Macedonia how they can help," Redzepi said.
There are 25 NGOs from Macedonia participating in the campaign, working on different platforms -- humanitarian, cultural, educational and religious. They are all part of the World Union of Islamic Organisations, which includes 217 organisations.
Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)-based association Solidarity and partner associations have undertaken a number of activities with the aim of informing the BiH public about this project, as well as concerning the situation of Syrian refugees.
A convoy with food and farina has been sent to Turkey, and now the organisation is focused on fundraising.
The campaign started in early January and so far, almost 13,000 euros has been collected. For BiH and its citizens who have been living under difficult conditions, it is a highly significant sum of money, experts said.
"In comparison with Turkey, where politicians donate their wages to humanitarian campaigns, the level of awareness of politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina is undoubtedly far from that. Our greatest donors are unquestionably our citizens, mostly those with minimal wages, but with compassion for others," Zemira Gorinjac, the president of the Solidarity association, told SETimes.
Cash donations are collected in shopping malls and through donations. Clothing, footwear, food and other supplies being collected will be sent in February.
"We ought to remember the war in BiH destroyed homes, humanitarian aid and our refugee lives. Others have given us a hope for a better tomorrow and made our difficult days better with their donations. Now we should be the ones who give to the Syrian people a hope that they are not forgotten, that in this world there is still grace and goodness," Gorinjac said.
Turkish Red Crescent has established plans and teams to proceed with the campaign, officials said, including the use of cell phones to make donations by texting.
"But, we will not only act as a deliverer, but we also assigned a specific phone line for SMS (at 2868) accessible from all mobile operators, in order to collect 5 TL-worth of donations for each SMS," Akar said.
The efforts of Turkish government are not limited to this campaign. Just before the initiation of the campaign, 35,000 tonnes of farina were sent to Syria. Turkey officials said the aid is provided regardless of ethnicity, religion, language, and race.
"Turkey has been paying great attention to help Syrian people, who are our brothers and sisters, and who have been tied to Turkey by 400 years of friendship. As [the] international community has been reluctant to take immediate action to protect Syrian people, Turkey took the initiative and organised the other countries in that direction," AK Party Istanbul deputy Turkan Dagoglu told SETimes.
"Turkey could not have remained blind towards the fact that [the] Syrian people strives to survive under very hard conditions, running out of food, water and electricity. It is very clear that Turkey has a humanitarian responsibility," Dagoglu added.
The aid, which will be collected by public institutions, will be transferred to bank accounts opened exclusively for this campaign, while civil society organisations transfer the aid that they have collected into those accounts.
A website, www.suriyeicinbirekmek.com, has been also created to promote details of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Istanbul-based Union of NGOs of the Islamic World announced on its support for the campaign through a press conference on Wednesday (January 9th).
Parallel to this announcement, various NGOs affiliated to the union (in UK, Malaysia, Pakistan, Macedonia, Kuwait, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Northern Cyprus, Bahrain and Algeria at first stage) will commit their support to the Turkey-led campaign.
"Following the … humanitarian crisis, it has been of utmost importance to take a mass and much more effective step," general secretary of Islamic World, Ali Kurt, told SETimes.
"Just like the erosion of global conscience in BiH in the 1990s, today the humanity loses its assets in Syria to a greater extent. We know the actors who committed to this crime. We know the inoffensive people suffering from this atrocity. And from this perspective, we emphasise the need for being with those people to ensure that humanity wins this time in Syria," he added.
In all, 16 countries are represented in the campaign either through their government or private organisations.
Correspondents Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Bedrana Kaletovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.