Turkish university opens three faculties in liberated areas of northern Syria

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TOPSHOT - A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters hold Turkish national flag (R) and Free Syrian Army flags (L) at a checkpoint in the Syrian town of Azaz on a road leading to Afrin, on February 1, 2018. Clashes raged between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish militia in Syria's Afrin region on January 31, 2018, as wounded civilians fled intense Turkish air strikes. Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have pressed on with Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave despite mounting international concern and reports of rising civilian casualties. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

As Turkey continues its reconstruction efforts in the liberated areas of northern Syria, it is using education as one of the main pillars to bring life back to the region that has suffered from the civil-war for years. In the latest attempt, a Turkish university is getting ready to open three faculties in three provinces of the country following heavy demands from the local people. The official Gazette announced Friday that the faculties, namely the faculty of economics and administrative sciences, faculty of theology and faculty of education, will be under Gaziantep University.

They will be opened in the northwestern Syrian provinces of al-Bab, Azaz and Afrin.

Ankara has initiated numerous projects with its own resources and sometimes in cooperation with international organizations for refugees that took shelter in Turkey, while it also spearheads for opportunities to give Syrians a chance of education in their home country.

“There was a high demand from local assemblies and provincial leaders. I went [to northern Syria] myself and saw the demand, they really need it,” said Ali Gür, the rector of Gaziantep University.

Gaziantep University, located in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border, applied to Turkish education officials back in 2018 to set up four faculties in northern Syria’s al-Bab, Azaz and Mare districts, which were initially planned to focus on economics, business, teaching and engineering; as some 2,700 prospective students had already taken proficiency exams.

The faculties will be the second move by Gaziantep University as it previously opened a vocational school last year in Aleppo’s Jarabulus district. While vocational education currently continues in five departments, the university is planning to expand it with four more and to provide education for 500 students.

Gür further said Syrians who return for education and stay in Syria as students will be eligible for scholarships. “We aim to send students back there and educate new generation by rendering it a livable place,” he said.

Gaziantep University is not the only Turkish university that is engaged in the educational transformation of the war-torn country. Last year, Harran University in southeastern Şanlıurfa also established a trilingual university faculty in al-Bab. Six departments were opened in the first phase and education in Turkish, Arabic and English is being provided. While the first two years of education are provided in al-Bab, the remaining two years will be completed in Şanlıurfa. In the next period, the university plans to provide all four years of education in al-Bab.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, 2018, to clear terrorists from northwestern Syria’s Afrin. The Turkish military and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered Afrin town center and liberated it from terrorists on March 18. Following the operations, Turkey has been also been involved in efforts to rebuild the towns’ infrastructure, as well as health and education institutions.

Schools are being renovated and a hospital is being built. Turkey also helps local people build olive oil facilities in the town where agriculture is the main source of income for residents. Tens of thousands of people who fled terrorist groups in Afrin returned to the town after Operation Olive Branch. In a recent development, Turkey’s postal directorate is also preparing to open a post office in Afrin.

Turkey provides not only college education but also vocational training to the residents of the liberated areas. For instance, local people in Azaz have been receiving vocational training at a public education center established by Turkey. The center includes courses in the Turkish language, hairdressing, graphic design, tailoring, electric and electronics, as well as training on the operation and maintenance of heavy machinery. Apart from Azaz, Turkey has also opened similar centers in the Syrian towns of Mare, Soran and Akhtarin.

While Ankara has been working on reconstructing northern Syria, Turkish NGO’s also exert efforts in the region, especially when it comes to education.

As an example, previously, Yesevi Aid Movement brought 150 students back to school by repairing a primary school located in the town of Bulbul, in Afrin. Some 150 students in the village will be trained in the school which was renovated and named after Eren Bülbül, a youngster who was killed by PKK terrorists in the Maçka district of the Black Sea province of Trabzon in 2017. The organization also reconstructed a school located in the town of Meryemin, east of Afrin.

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