The civil war in Syria brought organized, official trade to a standstill; all the needs of millions of Syrians are now met through an alternative trading system. Until now, foreign suppliers were taking heavy risks to send their products to Syria. When customs crossings closed down, the Syrian opposition stepped in by setting up companies in Turkey and Dubai for limitless trading with Syria.
According to information obtained by Sabah newspaper, former businessmen, senior level officials of the Free Syrian Army in particular, and some generals now control 70% of Syrian trade. Many of them own several companies, mostly based in Dubai. Recently they have been opening offices registered in the Turkish provinces of Hatay, Osmaniye and Kilis. They operate around the clock.
Regional businessmen say the trade between Syria and Turkey takes place mainly in the Kurdish-populated areas of Kobani, Afrin, Derek and Cinderes. About 80% of the trade is not documented.
A company representative from Gaziantep, who recently sold two tons of pasta in 10 days, says the region has its peculiar commercial rules: “Whatever you send to Syria is sold immediately. But it is not easy to do it through official channels. The informal trade channels are controlled by the opposition. There are three separate routes of trading with Syria, and they open at dawn every day. This is in response to the needs of the region.”
Kilis businessman Osman Yilmaz Eren says informal trading through private channels has boomed. “That was inevitable. The region is at war. Syrian people have serious needs that they have to obtain from Turkey. But as this is a very dangerous way of trading, we have logistical problems. For example, two of our semis were burned. Insurance doesn’t cover these losses while the opposition assists in trading,” he says.
Among the prominent companies operated by the opposition in Turkey are Freely, Selah and New Aleppo. Their headquarters are usually in Dubai but they maintain offices in Turkey. The trade in Kurdish areas on some days reaches millions of dollars. They rely heavily on the internet to manage the trade.
Official trading volume between Syria and Turkey, which was at the level of $2 billion, is now down to $300 million. In 2011, Turkey exported $1.6 billion of goods to Syria. Imports from Syria were about $500 million.
Hasan Akbal, president of the Young Businessmen’s Association of the Southeast, says the events in Syria affect regional trading. Syrian people have many needs, mainly food and textiles. “Different trading methods are tried depending on supply and demand. But what we really want is for Syria to return to law and order,” he says.