Turkish-Syrian border booming with trade
Turkey's less-developed border cities are riding the wave of Ankara's increasing engagement with the Middle East, boosting trade and economic cooperation, as well as cultural and sporting interaction, with southern neighbor Syria. "The border between Turkey and Syria is an artificial one. No boundaries exist in our minds or thoughts," Mardin Governor Hasan Duruer said. The southeastern Anatolia cities of Mardin and Sanliurfa have joined nearby Kilis, Gaziantep and Hatay in a 25 million TL program to promote trade, employment and sports and cultural exchanges between their cities and three Syrian counterparts, Aleppo, Rakka and Haseki. Of the total budget, 15 million TL will be allocated by Turkey; the rest will be provided by Syria. "One of the planned projects concerns maintaining border security," Duruer said. "The area next to the Nusaybin border gate is full of land mines. We're looking into clearing the mines and establishing a free trade zone with Syria. Perhaps in the future we can include Lebanon and Jordan." The cross-border initiative follows Turkey's move to establish a high-level strategic council with Syria to deepen bilateral ties in a wide range of areas and relax visa requirements for travel between the two countries. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for the establishment of a kind of European-style Schengen zone for Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Government leaders from the three nations are expected to meet next month in Istanbul to implement the plans.