ISTANBUL — When the office of Hurriyet, a major Turkish newspaper, was attacked by a crowd of around 200 stone-throwing supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sept. 6, Emre Kizilkaya was not surprised. Kizilkaya, managing editor of Hurriyet’s English edition, says that press freedom in Turkey “has declined dramatically” since the long ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win an overall majority in June elections and the country lurched toward civil war. After the vote, fighting resumed between the Turkish military and the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), breaking a two-year ceasefire. In the worst violence in the region since the 1990s, more than 100 soldiers and police have been killed since June in Turkey’s southeast, where many of the country’s estimated 15 million Kurds live. Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria have led the fight against the self-described Islamic State, earning admiration in the West but prompting concerns in Ankara that Kurdish gains elsewhere are emboldening Kurds in Turkey, where they make up around 18% of the population. “In this climate of war, media has been affected, with many critical columnists forced out of newspapers and pro-government media accusing independent media, such as ours, of ‘terrorism’,” Kizilkaya told the Nikkei Asian Review.
ZAHLE — Yassir Shebat is still getting used to his new surroundings in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Zahle, a town in eastern Lebanon known for its vineyards and scenic location in a valley between the hills of Beirut and the Syrian border. “In Aleppo, we had a three bedroom house, a nice life,” Yassir Shebat told The Edge Review, leaning against a pockmarked timber buttress supporting the 4-metre-by-4-metre shelter where he and 14 family members have stayed for the past three weeks. “Before the war, I mean,” he added, pointing, resignedly, around the claustrophobic interior of the shack. Syria’s grueling, brutal conflict is just 15 miles from this sun-lit town in the Bekaa Valley, a region that hosts around a third of the estimated one million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon. Around Zahle, the vineyards are interspersed with clusters of shiny white and blue-and-grey tents and tarpaulin-covered shacks.
BEIRUT – It takes him a good 20 seconds to get his bearings, but, sitting up in his bed, Matti Tourrani smiles, and, voice muffled by a drowsy cough, says hello. His right leg is swollen – so much that it is now twice as thick as his left. “It’s not so painful; I’m more concerned about my knee,” says the elderly man. Mr. Tourrani traveled with his wife Maysoun from their small village near Mosul in northern Iraq . He’s in Beirut for knee-replacement surgery, a procedure that will cost more than $23,000 and for which the family mortgaged their house. Their part of Iraq is still violent: Last week a bomb killed two people just a mile from their home. “We’re used to it by now,” Maysoun says. But the family is concerned that they might have traveled in vain. Before any knee surgery, the leg must heal more, says Irad Beldjebel, a doctor who works helping Beirut’s unknown thousands of refugees.
TRIPOLI, LEBANON – Refugee *Ahmed Assam drives a bus in Tripoli, manning a daily run from Lebanon’s second city to towns and villages outside. He’s staying with relatives, who helped him find the job, but he’s lost touch with his siblings in Homs, one of many Ground Zeroes in Syria’s brutal civil war. He is worried. “I haven’t heard from them for many months,” he laments, adding that “there are people coming from there to here every day, but no word about my family. Zooming in on a photo on his mobile phone – a young man sat diffidently on a garden chair – Assam says, “my brother, he’s dead, killed by the army.”
BEIRUT — With its sun-kissed Mediterranean coast, and cedar-laden snow-bound mountains, Lebanon, like California, is one of the few places where you can top up your tan in the morning, and ski in the afternoon. Add that to Beirut’s seen-to-be-seen party-hard attitude, great cuisine and plush shopping malls, it is easy to see why this tiny country was a Middle East culture-hub during the 20th century. But, as Scripture puts it, “the flower of Lebanon languisheth.” A recent power sharing deal cut in Doha, between the pro-West March 14 coalition and the Iran-backed Hezbollah-led opposition, might seem like progress for the politically-polarized nation, but in reality, Lebanon remains unstable.