Many Syrians across Turkey, whose number exceeds 3.4 million according to the United Nations, are divided between leaving or staying in Turkey when the war is over in Syria. Since the war is very close to end, we asked them what they will do next.
“Would you go back to your country if the war is over?” I asked a Syrian man who works for a construction company in Turkey’s northeastern city of Trabzon.
Moussa al Mustafa, father of seven children, is one of the Syrian refugees whose number exceeds 3,4 million in Turkey, the northern neighbour of Syria, which has been facing a civil war since the past seven years.
“I came to Turkey in late 2015 after Russian war planes bombed my house in their first air strike in my country,” said Mustafa. “Ten members of my family died in that strike and I decided to bring the rest of my family to Turkey," he added.
Mustafa was a farmer in a village in northern Aleppo where his father was a local governor. His father was one of the few people who survived the Russian air strike, and came to Trabzon to be with his son in late 2017.
Moussa now only seeks to provide safety and education for his children.
“My children are going to school here and people are nice to us. We are so happy to be here and I never felt this comfortable in my motherland,” he said.
“If possible, I’m going to stay here in Turkey. I’ve been taking Turkish classes after work so that I can better integrate with Turkish society,” Mustafa said, adding “I never think of going back to Syria”.
Most of the municipalities in Turkey offer free Turkish classes for Syrian refugees.
Turkey hosts the world's largest population of refugees fled from the war in Syria. The war started in 2011 with anti-regime protests and since then has created one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the World War II.
The death toll in Syria due to war has surpassed 470,000, according to a HRW report that added that more than half of the country's pre-war population, around 11 million people, has been forced to flee their homes.
Many of those who were displaced externally have chosen Turkey for shelter and Mustafa was one of many who wants to stay in Turkey even after the war ends.
However, the number of Syrians, who wish to go back their homes in Syria but afraid to do so due to security risks, is not small either.
“I fear my life and my family’s life if I go back to Syria while Assad is in power. I hope all evil, including Assad regime, Daesh, and YPG completely disappear soon and I can see my homeland again,” said Abdulghaffar Noami, who works for a car wash in central Istanbul.
Noami, a 45 year-old man who used to work for a bakery back in Syria's al Bab, said when Assad lost the town to Daesh, they faced a new level of brutality which was even worse than that of the regime:
“Daesh forced us to join them, so I had to run away from there,” he explains why he had to leave his home.
“I took my wife, my six children and my little brother for a nearly 20-hour journey on foot from al Bab to Turkey’s Hatay where I was looking for safety for my family,” Noami said.
“At every single step I took, I feared for my children getting caught by either Daesh or YPG terrorists,” he added.
Turkey has launched a cross-border operation in north west Syria in August 2016, in order to clear its border from Daesh and prevent a possible corridor between the YPG controlled areas.
YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, a designated terror group by Turkey, the US and the EU, and has been waging a deadly campaign against the Turkish state for more than 30 years.
In late February last year, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army, a moderate opposition group fighting the Assad regime, drove Daesh out of al Bab which was the group’s last presence in the north western Syria.
Turkey sends humanitarian aid to al Bab for the essential needs of civilians and also supports local security forces.
There are also Syrians who fled to Turkey to avoid joining the regime army.
Mohammed, who is 26-year-old, is working for a coffee shop in Istanbul’s Fatih district where Syrian refugee population is very high.
He said he might go back to Damascus once Assad is gone.
“The regime was going to take me for military service, but I didn’t want to fight for Assad,” Mohammed explains why he left his home in Damascus.
“I came to Turkey three years ago. I didn’t have a luxury life back in Damascus either, I was working as a cashier for a supermarket,” he said.
Mohammed says it doesn't matter in which country the life is better, he misses Damascus because his family is still there, dreaming to reunite with them soon.
“I want to go back to Syria, but I can’t do it before Assad is gone,” he added.
Especially in the last three, four years, one can observe that Syrians are integrating to the daily life in Istanbul. Some of them even own businesses, and most of them live in the same neighbourhoods.
Especially Fatih district, which is around 7 km from Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, hosts many shops run by Syrians. The employees are mostly Syrians, as well.
Hani, 25, works for a kebab shop at a busy street in Fatih. He fled his home in Damascus, which is under regime control, and went to Konya first, one of the biggest cities in central Anatolia. But then, upon finding out that earning money in Istanbul is much easier for a Syrian refugee, he ended up in Fatih.
“I came to Istanbul three years ago with my wife and my child,” he said while he was making preparations for the busy lunch time.
“There wasn’t much fighting close to us in Damascus, but the conditions were still hard and I wanted to move to Turkey. Then I wanted to come to this beautiful city [Istanbul] where I found a job and made many friends,” Hani said.
“Syria is and will always be in my heart, but I love Istanbul and it's home now. Even the war is over in Syria, I will stay here. I maybe go there for holiday every year,” he added.
There are many others in Istanbul shared their stories with us, but they wouldn't want to be identified since they still have their families in Syria and are afraid for them to face any harm.
Most of the Syrian refugees have already adapted to the life in Turkey and don't want to go back.
In some neighbourhoods, they don't even need to learn Turkish because the employers, customers and service suppliers are mostly Syrians as well. And the main reason behind this is that they don't believe their country will be rebuilt and that normalcy will return any time soon. At the moment, the only place to forget about their traumas is Turkey.