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Navanti researchers visited the town of Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, where the looming threat of a Turkish invasion has paralyzed economic life and left residents afraid.

A sign forbidding trucks from entering Ras al-Ayn is juxtaposed with a sign commemorating fallen SDF soldiers. Source: Navanti

A recent agreement between the United States and Turkey prevented an imminent Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. Nevertheless, Turkey considers the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which control the country’s oil-rich north, to be a critical threat to national security, and a peaceful solution between the two sides remains elusive—meaning that the threat of a Turkish invasion still exists.
 

The border town of Ras al-Ayn is located directly in the path of a potential attack, and ongoing uncertainty over the area’s future has impacted all facets of daily life: from the health of the local economy, to the appearance of the town, to the psychological state of residents.

Turkish border as seen from Ras al-Ayn. Source: Navanti

Unpredictability hampers economic growth

Residents told Navanti researchers that construction and real estate activity decreased over the summer as a Turkish attack appeared increasingly likely. Investors are wary to put money into even short-term projects that might disappear in a wave of future violence.

People are no longer building or rebuilding anything, or purchasing goods, because the Turks might invade. — Farmer, Ras al-Ayn

As a border town, Ras al-Ayn has historically benefited from trade. These days, people from neighboring areas hesitate to enter and conduct business due to the specter of armed conflict and strict security measures imposed by local forces.

Notably, Turkey’s threats of invasion and the accompanying decrease in investment and trade activity followed on the heels of widespread crop fires in northern Syria, which devastated fields around Ras al-Ayn, particularly in the villages of Raseem, Alia, and al-Saidyan.

Street scene in Ras al-Ayn. Source: Navanti

Military zone

Kurdish forces have announced they are withdrawing from the border area with Turkey in a bid to reduce tensions.

Nevertheless, extensive fortifications in Ras al-Ayn indicate that the threat of fighting has not passed.

[The digging of defensive] tunnels destroyed entire neighborhoods and undermined buildings’ foundations. There are weapons and depots in residents’ houses, and you hear gunfire daily. The city isn’t safe, we don’t feel safe. — Mechanic, Ras al-Ayn

The security of Ras al-Ayn sits on a razor’s edge…everyone is afraid of bombing from the Turkish side. — Taxi driver, Ras al-Ayn

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