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A Visit to the Turkey-Syria Border

On the Borderlines

by MATTHEW NESHED

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.

-Albert Camus

There is a line that divides the little Turkish town of Kelis from the Syrian city of Aziz. Leaving Kelis is not an issue but entering Syria requires a somewhat well thought out narrative. There is approximately three hundred meters that separates these borders. Both my colleague and I decided to march this road.  As we crossed, I panned to the right and saw a field scattered with bolted signs that warned of “landmines,” when I looked to the left I saw a field displaying several signs cautioning about “landmines.” Yet on the horizon, overlooking the seeds of hysterical demolition, I could feel the effluvia of the shinning sun.

Standing at the Syrian border I oversaw the expanding flood of internally displaced migrants (IDPs). The tears of children added to Syria’s seas of anguish.  Songs of resistance intensified the rhythm of the waves. I saw some children starving while others were playing. I heard men glorify Allah while others deprecated Bashar Assad. I saw as many smiles as I saw tears. During this point of the war, the Turkish government repeatedly emphasized that after the refugee problem exceeded one hundred thousand, Syrians would no longer have the option to take refuge behind the Turkish border. As I stood watching the forsaken, a Syrian man approached me from behind and inquisitively asked: “What do you see?” Watching pictures of despair mesh with pictures of freedom, I simply uttered: “I see life.” After the man formed the skeleton to a delicate smile, he informed me that neither Assad’s tanks nor ground forces often threaten the area. Numerous shelling, however, continues to wreak havoc amongst those beautifully playing, silently starving, and zealously roaring on the borderline.

The vivid image of a rebel sleeping in his chair while dangling his Russian Assault rifle still presses against my head.  I wonder if his dreams are an escape from the alarming sounds of growing hunger or perhaps they are nightmares of shelter in Syria’s history of inequity.  Regardless, the international community is working avidly to intensify such injustice. AK47’s, Rocket-Propelled-Grenades (RPGs) and anti-armor artillery are just a few of the heavy weapons that have magically found their way into the hands of both the FSA and the Baathist regime. The unrestricted movement of artillery and the restrictions of human mobility have produced an actualization that Achille Mbembe coined necropolitics. Necropolitics constitutes a domain that transforms each subject into the living dead. I remember being approached by an old man wanting to express his despondency, he explained, “My wife no longer lives, she only awaits her death.” This man, his wife, and all the others stuck behind the border are waiting for the next symbol of hope.

The Syrian conflict has extended for over a year and there is no indication that it will soon end. Both sides are being superfluously equipped to kill each other. Yet basic resources such as adequate medical assistance, food, and fresh water are in unjustifiably short supply. I had the opportunity to speak with several members from a specific faction in the FSA, a faction that refers to themselves as “The Eagles of the Ghost.” They told me that both Islamic Libyan rebels, and other militants affiliated with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) compile a significant portion of their resistance group. There are also an abundant amount of private donors and non-state actors who are funding either the FSA or the Assad Regime. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, numerous corrupt officials are allegedly donating their Zakat to further equip the FSA. For those who might not know, Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam which urges each Muslim to give a fixed amount of their wealth to anyone in need. Despite the corruption, there are numerous Saudis sincerely expecting their donations to facilitate the movement of humanitarian resources. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the majority of this “aid” is actually supporting the luxurious lifestyles of a few, and the unrestricted shipment of arms into the hands of nearly everyone else. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is sending some of their own militants into Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey is kindly fulfilling America’s every wish. The United States has pressured Turkey into establishing a FSA base in the Turkish city of Adana. This city is located roughly a hundred kilometers away from the Syrian border. The United States are using Turkey as a vehicle to foster and weaponize dubious armed rebels who claim to be the FSA. All of this foreign “support” is given under the plot of helping Syrians in their fight for freedom.  But whose freedom are all these various rebel groups fighting for? These political tribulations add gasoline to the already burning grounds that are endlessly waiting for any substantial humanitarian assistance. Paradoxically, I can’t even be sure if such a thing even exists.

Today there is still ubiquitous dialogue surrounding the potential for international intervention, which in my opinion, is entirely insincere.  At this point, there is an uncountable amount of foreign actors meddling and manipulating the Syrian war. The debate on intervention has more to do with “legitimacy” and transparency than anything else.  If the international community truly wants the “right to protect” (R2P) the Syrian people, a resolution manipulated to extend the “white man’s burden,” then why is there an uncontested effort to continue nurturing the grounds that harvest death? The “right to protect” is often employed as a license to kill. I recall Jean Jacques Rousseau proudly declaring that he would rather be a, “man of prejudice than a man of paradox.” Today I listen to Syria’s roars and with a face of naked sadness I watch the international polity foolishly absorb both vices.

Several members within the FSA have already been assisted with an abundance of arms.  Once they are injured, however, many of them are left to die. Several soldiers and civilians are in dire need of basic medical treatment that would likely save them from eventually having their limbs amputated. I had the privilege to speak with wounded FSA members who are on the verge of death, and who I fear have already been historically negated. Despondently, the hope that anyone will attend to their medical needs is a naïve thought. If I see these men again, if they survive the war, they’ll likely be breathing without an arm or a leg. Inside Syria, the full consequences of Necropolitics can be explicitly seen, herd, and felt. Syria has become a space where life has been subjugated to the “power of death.” Human life is restricted and weapons flow freely. Resources that preserve life are replaced for a form of capital which ends it. Weapons are arguably the highest form of capital and the most pervasive sensation of supremacy. To carry a gun is to embody sovereign authority. To aim a gun is to explore a choice that was historically reserved for the gods or the Kings who believed they were God. The man who holds a weapon holds the arbitrary authority to determine who lives and who dies.

I will never forget the day that I stood five hundred meters from the Syrian border. I was positioned appropriately three meters away from the expanding mass. I felt the vivacity of the unwanted. I can still feel life’s sensation through the rhythms of their voice.  Though their words resonate, it is their sentiments that echo coercively in my mind. Together the abandoned screamed: “We’re all rebels!” With heightened nostalgia the rising crowd addressed those who first responded to urges of freedom: “Hama showed me who answered me!” In solidarity they roared: “Daraa showed me who answered me!”  The global restrictions of life and the ubiquitous sponsorship of death should remind us that the call for liberation has only ever been answered by those who made the call. The desire for freedom extends far further than the death of a tyrant. Syrians want an end to their hunger, freedom from anguish, and a complete termination of the “aid” that sponsors their death. Today Syria has been wretchedly remodelled to bury Syrians alive. Yet inside the borderline, for a few moments, I felt the convulsive beauty of resistance. I saw broken lives defy death.

Matthew Neshed lives in Istanbul.