The war in Syria has been waging for seven years, and many Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey. Here are some short memoirs from the people who are starting their lives anew in a refugee camp in Hatay.
Since the war in Syria pushed tens of thousands of people to resettle in foreign countries. Turkey alone has taken in over 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Last month, TRT World Citizen paid a visit to the Altinozu Container Camp in the Hatay province of southern Turkey – 500 meters from the Turkish-Syrian border. The camp is home to over 8,500 Syrian refugees.
These are the testimonies from those who live and work there.
1. The karate teacher
From Latakia, Syria
After arriving at the camp, I immediately fell back to my previous job of karate instructor.
In 1995, I became the fourth-best karate champion in Syria. After completing my military service, I carried on practising and teaching martial arts.
My family and I left Syria when the war began in 2011. We travelled through cities and villages by sea, while participating in protests against the Assad regime.
I spent roughly six years in the Free Syrian Army: I started as an informant, then continued as a journalist who travelled to various occupied regions to cover the events.
I now have around 80 students at the camp, and I am proud to say that some are able to fight and use self-defence at a very high level. They have entered championships in Gaziantep and won three first-place medals.
Participating in competitions is also an opportunity for the children to leave the camp, travel to local areas, and experience different environments.
My main focus is teaching the orphans at the camp. They are my biggest concern; I want to be able to teach them to look after and protect themselves.
Karate is as much about self-defense as it is about self-respect and respect for others.
There are three principles I teach my students: to pray, study hard, and exercise.
My youngest student is five years old and the eldest is 17. I tend to pair the stronger and more advanced students with those who are new to help them improve.
Karate lessons have given the youth something beneficial to do – turning them away from smoking and using drugs.
The children I train have a lot of potential and I am extremely proud of them. I truly believe they will go on to be great fighters and future champions.
2. The music teacher
From Antakya, southern Turkey
I have been teaching music at the camp for two years now. I have learnt a little Arabic since I started working here, and I practice it regularly while teaching the children. Our lessons are usually a combination of Turkish and Arabic!
I’m often asked why I travel all the way from Antakya to teach refugee children.
It is far, it is tiring, and there are times when I am unable to get enough rest. But these children are extremely special, and the long distance is worth it. As tiring as it can get at times, I do it purely for these children.
When I teach them, they don’t just have the ability to view the world from an art and music perspective, but their souls are coloured by the various types of music that they are exposed to.
One thing for certain is that the children here in the camp are more talented than most Turkish children. They pick up and learn things very quickly. I tell them all the time that if they worked hard, especially, on their Turkish, they will have a better chance of studying and progressing.
My dream is for these children to one day participate in concerts and play in front of the world. I want them to excel in everything they do, whether it is music or otherwise.
To see their progress, the smiles on their faces ... It is an indescribable feeling.
3. A student
I come from a family of eleven siblings. Some are here in Turkey and the others are in Syria and Jordan.
I have been in the camp for two years now. I left Syria because the situation kept getting worse; there was too much bombing.
It was difficult to leave, especially as I was doing extremely well in school. I really wanted to excel and continue my studies. I even asked my father if I should go and study in the regime-occupied areas, even though our family is vehemently anti-Assad.
I have two brothers here in Turkey who are married. They left Syria at the beginning of the revolution and applied for my three sisters and I to come.
My parents didn’t want to leave. We have land and orchards in Syria and my father, who is quite old, refuses to leave his home, no matter what. But out of fear of our safety and for us to complete our studies, he sent us here.
I am able to talk to them on some days, but it’s difficult. Leaving my parents behind was hard and the thought of them brings tears to my eyes.
I want to study medicine and become a doctor; anything that will give me the opportunity to help other refugees, the poor, and the needy. I want to help and support people of all backgrounds, races, and religions.
I have applied for a place at the Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya. My elder sister, who is 21, had a difficult time getting into university, so she got married. My eldest sister returned to Syria six months ago. I was going to go with her but due to the risk of being kidnapped and the travel being extremely dangerous my father told me to stay and focus on my studies.
I love drawing and writing poetry. It’s a way to express the things that I cannot have conversations about. I write about my thoughts, my feelings, and my inspirations. Poetry is my lifeline – it’s what keeps me going.
4. A family of teachers
Karima al Mohamed
We have been in this camp for a year and four months, but we were in the Yayladagi camp for five and a half years before that.
My youngest was born in Turkey; I was pregnant with her when we crossed the border.
I used to give private tuition when I was in Syria but I was mostly at home looking after my children. However, since coming to the camp, my husband and I started teaching to earn extra money to survive. The camp gives us 100TL a month but even then, we are just about able to scrape by.
Since we moved I have been trying to learn the Turkish language and I’m really getting the hang of it. But my husband has been struggling a lot.
He travelled a lot before the war. He was born in Baghdad, Iraq and his family moved to Syria when he was very young. However, they returned to Iraq when Hafez al Assad was in power – around the time of the Hama massacre. He was four years old at the time. When the Gulf war began and the situation worsened in Iraq, his parents decided to return to Syria.
I grew up in Sanaa, Yemen. I met my husband when he came on a trip to Yemen. After getting married we moved to Syria.
As we now have five children we’d like to live in an environment where families can thrive. Living in Turkey is not realistic for us. It is very expensive – even with both our salaries, it is not enough. That is why my husband wants to find a way to Europe. A while ago he paid a smuggler to take him from Izmir to Greece. He attempted to cross the border into Europe but was unable to. The boat he was on had 45 people on it when it sunk. Thankfully they were all rescued and no one died. He attempted this journey twice and failed both times.
He eventually returned and travelled to Istanbul to try and register us officially, but was told that it wasn’t an option for Syrians. He is still determined to leave; if he finds a smuggler he will try again.
Turkey has given us something no other country has. When everyone turned away, they welcomed us with open arms. This is something we will never, ever forget.
We Syrians are a simple people. All I want is to buy my children the treats they see in stores, to provide for them, and give them the basics that any other child deserves. I want to be able to do this without having to think about it.
I am grateful; I feel we are lucky compared to many others in the camp. We work and are able to earn. Even though it is a little, it all helps.
We love Syria, but sadly we have little hope of being able to return. My main concern is securing a home and a future for my children. They have been entrusted to me by God and I must do right by them. Even if it’s all I do.