Things, services, foods that you would take for granted in the larger cities, or even the small towns in the west of the country were unheard of, unimagined here. It was like stepping back in time.
Those were the halcyon days before the strife, upheaval and devastation that was introduced with the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Many western commentators rushed to view the up-risings from their own western, democratic, liberal perspective and world view.
In the ‘good old days’ before the ‘Arab Spring’, Turkey was on very good terms with its neighbour Syria. Visa-free travel was introduced and Turks freely went to Syria and Syrians freely came to Turkey.
Unfortunately the ‘visa-free’ travel did not extend to my nationality. And whilst my Turkish friends could travel to or through Syria on a whim, if I was to contemplate such a journey I would need to plan, go to a Syrian consulate or Embassy and obtain a visa before travel.
And the cost of a tourist visa wasn’t cheap.
I had friends who travelled to Aleppo, saw the ancient citadel, wandered the exotic souks and enjoyed the delights of the city.
That experience is gone now. The war has reduced Aleppo and the ancient citadel to ruins. The Byzantine maze of the souks are damaged, deserted; what remains are the battered and tattered shells of what they once were.
I never made it to Syria.
I have no plans to go anytime soon.
But, it seems over the course of the last five or so years, slowly, slowly, Syria has been migrating here.
They came, not using ‘visa-free’ travel, those days are long gone, nay, they simply jumped over the border – once just a simple, low barbed wire fence.
The majority came fleeing the violence, the indiscriminate chaos, death and destruction raining down and being meted out by all sides on all sides.
Others fled for a respite, fighters and wounded fighters alike. They come, and in the fullness of time, return.
Now when I walk the streets of Antakya, where once I occasionally heard Arabic, now, I occasionally hear Turkish.
The people in the streets, frequenting the shops or in the most modern of shopping malls that graces our town centre are liberally laced with the dress and complexion of our guests from neighbouring Syria.
Many of these new-comers are opening up shops, bakeries, restaurants and so on. Where once all the signs in the city were in Turkish, now there is a growing accumulation of Arabic Script signs.
It seems I did not go to Syria, but Syria has come to me.