Syria, Turkey more than just neighbors

A civil society platform in Erzurum in eastern Turkey has funded the renovation of a damaged school building in the Syrian city of al-Bab.

al-monitor People attend the reopening of Erzurum Secondary School in al-Bab, Syria, Sept. 30, 2018 Photo by Facebook/ElbabMeclisi.

Oct 16, 2018

ALEPPO, Syria — A damaged public school in the eastern neighborhood of al-Bab city in the Euphrates Shield area in Aleppo countryside has resumed classes following extensive renovation efforts financed by a local Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO).

Al-Bab local council reopened the public school Sept. 30 in an inauguration ceremony attended by a number of Syrian and Turkish dignitaries and officials. Jamal Osman, the director of al-Bab's local council, and Fawzi al-Sayeh, the council's director of the education bureau, attended the opening.

Since the end of Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey has been seeking to rehabilitate social institutions in the Euphrates Shield area, and its efforts have been especially focused on the education sector.

The renovated school was named Erzurum Secondary School by the city's local council, after the city of Erzurum in eastern Turkey. The Erzurum Civil Society Platform (ECSP), a Turkish NGO, financed the renovation of the wrecked school building.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, students presented gifts to the attendants. In turn, the students received new clothes, schoolbags, notebooks, stationery and other gifts.

When the Islamic State (IS) took control of al-Bab on Jan. 14, 2014, it turned the school building into one of its military headquarters. The building was cleared from IS fighters on Feb. 23, 2017, by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions — partaking in the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield — that fought fierce battles with IS.

The school premises were severely damaged, as IS had blown up large parts of the building before pulling out of the city. The school needed extensive renovation works to reopen its doors to students.

Sayeh told Al-Monitor, “We organized the inauguration of the renovated Erzurum Secondary School to thank the people of Erzurum in Turkey for paying the restoration costs. Engineers and construction workers from the city carried out the restoration works financed by ECSP. We named the school after the Turkish city to show our appreciation.”

In regard to the school curriculum, he said, “The Syrian curriculum will be applied under the supervision of the Syrian Interim Government. This curriculum is taught across all schools in the FSA-controlled areas in the Euphrates Shield area. As of the beginning of October, students have been attending classes regularly at Erzurum.”

He added, “The school will accommodate students from the eastern neighborhood of the city. The other school in this neighborhood can no longer accommodate all students.”

While no official statistics are available on the number of internally displaced persons in al-Bab, thousands of people from Homs, Deir ez-Zor and Ghouta in Rif Dimashq have settled in the city.

Sayeh noted, “The school can accommodate around 1,500 students in total. Students from first to fourth grade will attend a morning shift, while the afternoon shift will be allocated to students from fifth to 12th grade.”

He added that there are 30 schools in al-Bab, which were all damaged by the war. Sayeh said that the Turkish government has helped renovating and equipping 20 of them in the past months. Restoration works of the schools were undertaken by the city’s local council with the support of the Turkish government that also pays the teachers’ salaries.

“Schools in the city were heavily bombarded by the regime or destroyed by the battles between the FSA and IS,” he said. “Most school buildings were seized by IS and turned into military headquarters or storage facilities for ammunition and weapons. Other schools were destroyed by the explosions carried out by IS during the battles.”

Sayeh noted that he does not know how much the renovation of Erzurum Secondary School cost.

“Erzurum school was equipped with all necessary educational means for students, such as new chairs, tables and learning tools,” Kawthar Qshqwsh, an official at the education bureau of al-Bab's local council, told Al-Monitor. “Currently 1,250 male and female students are enrolled in the school and 25 male and female teachers of various specializations [are employed].”

She stressed the importance of reopening the school, which will allow hundreds of students to get a proper education under appropriate conditions. “Schools in al-Bab are overcrowded. This new school will reduce classroom sizes.” By the end of October, Qshqwsh expects to know the exact number of students in the city. 

Al-Monitor met Maysa Daly, who was displaced from eastern Ghouta and now resides in al-Bab. “The recently opened Erzurum school is near my home. I enrolled my three children in it since they had to travel a long distance to reach their old school. They told me that they are very comfortable at their new school and that their teachers are very nice to them.”

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