Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate expands services to Syria

Turkey’s state-run Religious Affairs Directorate, an important institution for Turkish government’s soft-power strategies, published a report on its religious, educational, and humanitarian services in areas captured in Turkey’s military offensives in Syria, Sputnik Turkish reported on Thursday. 

Turkey launched an offensive named Euphrates Shield in August 2016 in northern Syria to push Islamic State militants away from its border and also to prevent the advance of Kurdish fighters, which it sees as an extension of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for more than 30 years. 

The operation ended seven months later, after the Turkish army and its allied Syrian rebels captured several towns, including Jarablus and al-Bab. 

Turkey targeted Kurdish forces in Syria a second time with a January offensive this year named Olive Branch and seized the control of mainly Kurdish Afrin district in northwest Syria. 

The report on Turkey’s top religious body covers services provided in areas captured in these two operations, including prayers at mosques early in the morning of the day Operation Olive Branch was launched.

The directorate has repaired 108 mosques in Syria so far, spending around 10 million lira ($1.6 million) and continues to build new mosques as a part of a project it names prestige mosques -mosques reflecting Turkish architectural styles.

The Religious Affairs Directorate has also prepared 30 videos in Arabic to fight terrorism and violence. 

Some 472 members of the directorate’s staff have been working in northern Syria and around 5.5 million lira ($885,000) has been spent to pay the salaries of local religious personnel. 

The directorate said in its report that it had eliminated those affiliated to terrorist organisations and extremist groups, when selecting local staff.