ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey is fast integrating Syrian territories under its military occupation to its own state structure by appointing civil servants, Turkifying school curricula, managing local judiciaries and law enforcement, and putting into practice a Sunni Islamic agenda in all these, recent reports by government media revealed.
On Jan. 29, the official Anadolu news agency reported that the governor of southern Hatay Province paid a visit to a kind of Turkish Islamic high school, known as an "Imam Hatip" school, to meet with "Syrian" teachers receiving training before Turkey appointed them to schools in the Kurdish region of Afrin, just across the border into Syria.
Anadolu wrote that the teachers at the religious school are tasked with teaching in the Turkish language once they are sent to Afrin, an area the Turkish army along with its proxy Syrian proxy militias invaded a year ago.
Another report dated Jan. 17 exposed that Turkey had opened at least one Imam Hatip school in Afrin that was providing Islamic education in Turkish and Arabic.
A top director from the Turkish Ministry of National Education was photographed handing out school reports to hijab-donning teenage students at a ceremony for the winter break.
According to the official, there were 243 primary and high schools in Afrin run by Turkey. Turkey also controls the curricula in education centers in other towns such as Azaz, Jarablus, and al-Bab in Turkish-occupied northwestern Syria.
It was known that Turkey is running educational affairs in Afrin since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself last year announced that his administration would appoint teachers and clerics, but the existence of a Turkish religious school had not been made public before.
Imam Hatips are taxpayer-funded schools where students are prepared to become Muslim clerics to serve in over 90,000 mosques in Turkey and abroad, including the Americas and Europe, administered by the Diyanet, the country's official Islamic Directorate of Religious Affairs.
Sabah, a staunchly pro-government newspaper, reported on Jan. 18, that Ankara has also appointed five muftis and 299 clerical staff from Diyanet to the mosques it was building or repairing in Afrin.
The same paper reported that the Turkish Interior Ministry and its General Directorate of Security, which maintains the nation-wide police, created a "Syria Task Force" which was "advising" groups with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias sharing Afrin's control with Turkey.
"The task force began to install a system of electronic surveillance for the security of the city," it said.
Turkey launched the invasion of Afrin in January 2018 on the grounds that the self-declared Kurdish administration there was a "terrorist entity" and endangering its territorial unity.
During a two-months intense aerial and ground bombardment, some 160,000 people left their homes and villages until Afrin finally fell to the Turkish army and FSA.
President Erdogan promised, "to give Afrin back to its rightful owners," which he said were not Kurds, just as Turkey bused in thousands of Arab families and Islamist militias from southern Syria per a deal with Russia.
Since then, Ankara has increasingly started to make Afrin, along with other population centers under its occupation, look like the northern part of the Republic of Cyprus which it invaded in 1974.
There has been little reaction from the international community, world powers, and the UN regarding the status of the Syrian regions Turkey controls.
Among foreign nations maintaining a military presence in Syria–including the US, France, Britain, Russia, and Iran–Turkey is the only country hoisting its flag on non-military premises, such as schools, hospitals, mosques, or other sites such as central town squares or even hills in the countryside.
Editing by John J. Catherine