Fears are widespread as uncertainty settles in on the Turkey-Syria border.
By Evrim Kurdoglu and Menekse Tokyay for SETimes in Istanbul -- 29/08/13
Turkish soldiers patrol the border town of Ceylanpinar on the Turkish-Syrian border. [AFP]
Outrage over last week's deadly chemical weapons attack in Damascus, coupled with the Assad regime's belligerent vow to defend itself using "all means available" has many Turkish citizens living along the Syrian border in fear.
Many in the region have been wary for months about an outbreak of hostilities between the neighbouring countries.
After the August 21st attack in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people, Turkish politicians joined many in the international community in vowing that the perpetrators would not go unpunished.
Opposition forces in Syria blame the attack on the Assad regime, which has in turn accused rebel forces of triggering the attack. UN inspectors were to be at the scene of the attack Wednesday (August 28th), and members of the UN Security Council were to meet Wednesday to discuss the incident.
Turkey on Wednesday put its military on alert to guard against threats from Syria, and also moved aid workers specialised in detecting and treating chemical attacks to the border.
"The people of Ceylanpinar became even more concerned after chemical weapons were used in Damascus last week. We'd definitely be impacted if chemical weapons were used in Ras al-Ayn. Some people want to migrate. I don't -- where could I go? -- but if something happens around here, we're dead," construction worker Bisar Turgay, 45, told SETimes.
Ceylanpinar sits directly across the border from the Syrian city of Ras al-Ayn.
Hizni Kilic, a farmer in Ceylanpinar's Suruccesme village, echoed Turgay's concerns.
"The fear became even worse after chemical weapons were used, because we won't be able to escape the impact if one is used in Ras al-Ayn. Many people are so scared they want to migrate. Some have left for Urfa or the west," Kilic told SETimes.
Concern swept throughout Turkey over the deaths, but many were split on how Ankara and the international community should respond.
"There is an increasing humanitarian crisis in this region," Alaaddin Sarikaya, a merchant based in Istanbul, told SETimes.
"Even though some claim that the news about the chemical attack is just misinformation, at the end of the day thousands of people are dying and it needs now a humanitarian focus from the rest of the world."
Dr. Umit Bicer, head of Kocaeli University's forensic medicine department, said the concerns of citizens in the border area are legitimate. The gas used in Damascus was most likely sarin, he said, adding that it could have severe effects if used near the border.
"So the concerns of people living in border areas in our country are not all that unfounded," he told told SETimes. "If a lot of it were used in Ras al-Ayn, those living on the border in Turkey would be impacted."
The impacts of the Syria war are keenly felt in Hatay's Reyhanli county, site of a bombing that killed dozens earlier this year. Izzet Koldan, an accountant who works in Reyhanli, said the chemical weapons attack sent a fresh wave of refugees across the border.
"As the people of Reyhanli, we're concerned. There was an especially big increase in the number of people coming across the border following last week's chemical disaster in Damascus. I saw many refugees walking as I drove from Antakya to Reyhanli," the 52-year-old father of two told SETimes.
An estimated 459,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey since the unrest began in 2011, and more than 100,000 in Syria have been killed in the fighting.
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