In Al-Hol camp, a market bustles

Street vendors sell pickles and vegetables in the market of Al-Hol Camp, northeastern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 31 March 2019

In Al-Hol camp, a market bustles

  • Despite the lively market, the camp has been described by residents and international organizations as a humanitarian hell-scape, lacking basic accommodation and medical facilities

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria: Plump fruits, bright slushies, and hair dye — the coloful market in Al-Hol is an unlikely sight in a Syrian camp overflowing with desperate people displaced as Daesh’s “caliphate” collapsed. Clothing stalls stacked with colorful scarves line the side of a muddy road. Plastic containers display glowing oranges, fresh tomatoes and large, shiny eggplants. Children crowd around pristine slushie and ice cream machines. A young girl eyes a series of colorful cakes laid out in a row.
More than 70,000 people, the bulk of whom escaped Daesh-held territory, pack this overcrowded shelter in northeastern Syria.
They include more than 9,000 foreigners, who are holed up in a fenced section of the encampment, under the watch of Kurdish forces. Syrians and Iraqis stroll freely through the market in the heart of the camp. Some of the camp’s residents have enough money to purchase clothes, fruits and vegetables. Others queue for hours for aid and food handouts. “There are many people who buy, but there are also people who find it difficult, because they can’t afford to,” says Salam, a baker. The scent of freshly baked pastries wafts from a rudimentary stone oven inside the Nour Bakery, where he works. He places a long wooden tray carrying flattened dough topped with minced meat in an oven.
The 24-year-old Iraqi, who has been living in the camp for over a year, says he earns about four dollars a day, which he uses to support his parents and six younger siblings.
Elsewhere in the market, women in all-covering black niqabs stand in front of a stand displaying hair dyes and other trinkets.
Nearby, another stand is inundated with perfume bottles. Despite the lively market, the camp has been described by residents and international organizations as a humanitarian hell-scape, lacking basic accommodation and medical facilities.
According to Save the Children, some 30 percent of children under the age of five screened at the camp since early February suffer acute malnutrition. The World Food Programme says it has recorded several cases of dehydration and diarrhea.
“The needs in the camp are huge,” said Amjad Yamin, a spokesperson for Save the Children. And just a few steps away from the market, the destitution is visible: women queue in seemingly endless rows in front of a WFP warehouse, awaiting food rations.

Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

Updated 8 min 40 sec ago

Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

  • Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals

ISTANBUL: Renowned Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart says he has spent as much time in prison and courthouses as he has at work since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power.

His latest stint in jail started in April, after an appeals court upheld his sentence of three years and nine months for “helping terrorist organizations.”

Released last week pending another appeal, Kart told AFP: “For 15 years, prisons and courthouses have become a second home to me.”

Kart, who was recognized last year by the Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, was among 14 journalists and staff from the renowned opposition paper Cumhuriyet convicted in the case.

He was initially arrested in 2016 after Erdogan launched a major crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed coup.

“I have spent almost the same amount of time in court corridors as I spent in the paper. It is very unfortunate,” he told AFP.

Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals, and says he always made an effort to look his best for prison visitors.

“I never welcomed my visitors in a hopeless state,” he said. “I would shave, pick my cleanest shirt from my modest wardrobe and welcome them with open arms. We would spend our time telling jokes.” His morale was boosted by the knowledge he had done nothing wrong.

“If you believe that your position is right, if you have an inner peace about your past actions, then it is not that difficult to stand prison conditions,” he said. Kart has been in and out of trouble since Erdogan took power in 2003.

His first lawsuit came in 2005 over a cartoon portraying Erdogan, then prime minister, as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.

“I have drawn cartoons for over 40 years ... I did it in the past with other political leaders, but I was never the subject of a court case,” Kart said. 

“The frame of tolerance has seriously narrowed today.”

The current case against him claims he contacted members of the Gulen movement accused of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016. 

It also says the 14 Cumhuriyet staffers had conspired to change the paper’s editorial policy to support the Gulenists, as well as Kurdish rebels and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

“Today the accusations of terrorism have gone well beyond a realistic point,” Kart said.

“When you take a look at my cartoons, you see how much I am against any kind of terrorist organization and how seriously and strongly I criticize them.”

Rights advocates including the Reporters Without Borders have called on Turkey to revise its anti-terrorism and defamation laws, which they claim are abused to silence opponents.

Cumhuriyet — Turkey’s oldest daily founded in 1924 — is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation, making it an easier target for authorities.

The paper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fled to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.

It has its own internal problems, too — Kart and some of the others actually quit the paper last year over disagreements with the new management.

But the case has added to the chilling effect that has infected the whole of the media in Turkey, which has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

No date has been set for the next appeal, and Kart has no idea how the saga will end.

“Everyone knows that there has been a political shadow hanging over our case,” he said.

Whatever happens, he said his focus would remain on drawing.

“Cartoons are really a very strong language because you can find a way to express yourself under any circumstances, even under pressure.”