On June 6, the Daily Mail published an exclusive report documenting how the Syrian refugee children as young as nine in the Turkish town of Antakya “are employed to stitch the uniforms that end up on the backs of frontline ISIS [Islamic State (IS)] fighters.”
“Syrian refugee children,” according to the Mail, “are forced to work in a military uniform sweatshop that sells camouflage to ISIS.
“Unable to go to school and desperate for money on the Turkish border the boys work 12 hour days for £10.
“Factory owner Abu Zakour has no problem selling uniforms to ISIS: ‘It doesn’t matter where my customers are from,’ he told the Mail.
Zakour’s factory also supplies Al Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel FSA fighters with military garb. The reports says that the children – mostly boys and a couple of girls “hidden upstairs” are paid a minimum of 40 Turkish lira (£10) to help make “the uniforms that get smuggled across the border to rebel groups.”
Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesperson of Turkish presidency, responded to the story saying that “those are unserious statements.”
“The claims that the uniforms of DAESH,” said Kalin, referring to the Islamic State with an Arabic acronym, “are stitched at a textile factory in Antakya are unserious statements. They must prove it. What they want to do is a perception operation.”
However, the reporters from the Mail already went to the sweatshop in the city of Antakya, spoke directly with the factory owner and took photos of Syrian children or “child slaves” making uniforms for the Islamic State.
The city of Hatay, or Alexandrette, where the Antakya district is located, has been in the news for quite a long time for the increasing ISIS activities taking place there.
A 13-year-old Syrian child, for instance, who said he wished to be named Abu Hattab, told BBC Turkish in 2014 that he would like to go to Raqqa from Hatay, on the Syrian border, to join the Islamic State.
His mother, an Arabic teacher, also said that she supported his son’s decision to join the Islamic State. “I want him to be a jihadist. I sent him to get training at an organization called Aleppo Islam eight months ago. He received military and sharia education there.
“I would be very happy if he dies in Syria,” the 53-year-old woman added.
Apparently, Antakya and Hatay – like many other Anatolian towns – have become the targets of many Islamist groups fighting in Syria and operating in Turkey.
Antakya, or the ancient city of Antioch, was called “the cradle of Christianity” and is one of the five centers (Patriarchates) of the ancient Pentarchy. It is the first place where the followers of Jesus were referred to as “Christians.” It used to be Byzantine Empire’s third largest city.
“The mixture of Roman, Greek, and Jewish elements,” writes Encyclopaedia Biblica, “admirably adapted Antioch for the great part it played in the early history of Christianity. The city was the cradle of the church.”
According to Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia, “Two great figures for the beginnings of Christianity were born here [in Antioch]: Saint Paul at Tarsus and Luke the evangelist at Antioch… The principal languages spoken by the Christians of western Anatolia were Greek, Armenian and Syriac.”
Many jihadist armies throughout history – including Seljuk Turks (1084), Mamelukes (1268) and the Ottomans (1516) –invaded Hatay, an ancient Greek-Roman city, diminishing, year after year, the Christian populations and culture there.
The area was eventually incorporated into the republic of Turkey in 1939. Today Antioch/Antakya is a majority-Muslim town in southern Turkey. Christians there are now a small minority.
“The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims,” wrote Professor Philip Carl Salzman in Balanced Opposition: the Tribal Foundations of Arab Middle Eastern Islamic Culture “is defined by Islamic doctrine as one of superiority-inferiority, and of endless conflict until the successful conquest of the non-Muslims.”
And the conquest is always accompanied and followed by horrific crimes: bloodshed, sexual slavery, beheadings, torture, rape, burying alive, kidnapping, and burning.
Today, ISIS engages in these crimes daily. But yesterday’s jihadists also committed the same crimes all across the territory which is today commonly termed “the Muslim World”.
The peoples historically victimized by violent Jihad or Islamic raids include Jews, Zoroastrian Persians of Iran, Baluchistan and Afghanistan, Byzantine Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, Christian Coptic Egyptians, Christian Coptic Nubians (modern Sudanese), Yazidis, Hindus of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats, and Hungarians, among others.
Christians of Anatolia were mostly eradicated from Anatolia throughout centuries. Today ISIS aims to “finish the business” and eradicate the remnant Christians from the Middle East.
This appears the inevitable outcome of Islamization of territories and cultures. And this is what Hatay and Antakya as well as the rest of Anatolia have been going though for centuries.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb