Turkish city becomes Syrian 'Aleppo in exile'

By James Reynolds
BBC News, Gaziantep

image captionRestaurant owner Haj Abed (grey shirt) serves up Syrian dishes to refugees

Eight months ago, Haj Abed escaped Aleppo with most of his family and all of his recipes. He moved to the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep and decided to start a Syrian restaurant.

On a weekday evening, every table is full. Haj Abed's staff, wearing red shirts, prepare hummus, falafel, flat bread, and salad. They serve their fellow Syrian refugees food from home.

But their war is hard to forget.

A framed photograph of Haj Abed's son Abdullah hangs above the falafel counter.

Abdullah stayed behind in Aleppo and was killed by shellfire in December 2012. His four-year-old son, Mohammed, is now cared for by the family.

"I'm here for the same reason most Syrians are here," says Haj Abed. "Before the revolution I was just a regular person. I came here because of my wife and children. God provided for us and enabled us to open this place."

More than 300,000 Syrians have come to Turkey. The city of Gaziantep attracts many hoping to look for work and a new home.

"You get mixed feelings about it," says Yasser Al Haji, a Syrian journalist who is now based in Gaziantep.

"You're walking in a Turkish city and you hear Arabic - Syrian people talking with Aleppo or Damascus accents. You feel weird."

'Unaffordable life'

Some Syrian refugees live in camps set up by the Turkish state. Those with money rent apartments and try to look for work. Others struggle to get by.

image source, Reuters
image captionMuch of the historic city of Aleppo lies in ruins following fierce clashes between rebels and government troops

"Some people already went back because they have no money to spend here and they cannot find work," says Yasser Al Haji.

"Life is very expensive. I met some people a couple of days ago in Aleppo - they went back because they cannot afford to live here anymore. The situation in Aleppo is very dangerous but they said we have no choice about where to go."

Some refugees have found work.

The Holozolu shop sells T-shirts and hats. On one shelf, dozens of white baseball caps with the logo of the Free Syrian Army are stacked near the window. The shop's Turkish owner has given a job to an old friend from Syria, 32-year-old Khaled Mousa.

image captionSupport for the Free Syrian Army is strong among Syrian refugee communities in Turkey

"Most of the customers here are Syrians - 70% of them," says Khaled Mousa.

"Sometimes they come looking for houses and jobs. Some people come here with no more than $10. Sometimes we help them with housing. We help them because we want to - not because we have any kind of agenda."

Turkey may not be fighting Syria's war. But the country actively supports the Syria opposition. It tolerates large numbers of its neighbours, who are beginning to change the nature of the city.

Gaziantep is still Turkish, but it has also become Aleppo in exile.

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