Τhe Syrian war has turned several unremarkable villages into centers of trade sought out by investors and artisans, lending credence to the popular Arabic saying that “one people’s misfortune works to another’s benefit.”
Sarmada is one such village. Located in Idlib province near the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey, Sarmada became a crossing point for Turkish goods entering opposition areas after rebels captured Idlib.
Ahmed al-Saeed is a car salesman from a village in the Idlib countryside. He came to Sarmada in 2014 and saw a golden opportunity: there was high demand for European cars entering Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing. European cars are cheap and of high quality when compared to those coming from regime-held areas, which are subject to high taxes, al-Saeed told the Syrian Voice.
“Sarmada’s economic flourishing isn’t just because of cars. The city is growing rapidly, there are stores that sell bulk goods, including food, European clothing, hardware, etc., which has increased rents for houses and stores,” said al-Saeed.
“Rent for a house gets as high as SP 40,000, around 100 USD, and rent for a store between SP 60,000 and SP 80,000, around 150 USD to 200 USD. These prices are very high compared to other villages in the Idlib countryside.”
The city of Dana, not far from Sarmada, has witnessed a similar economic revolution.
“My situation is no worse here [in Dana], it’s as if I’m still in my old shop in Aleppo city,” Abu Abdu al-Halabi, a car parts trader, told the Syrian Voice.
“I felt that Dana city was right for my line of work. Lots of people come to the area because all types of car parts are available.”
Dana’s proximity to the Turkish border has played a critical role in its economic growth. Some customers travel long distance to come and shop, said al-Halabi.
“The city’s location, and the level of security it enjoys–relatively speaking, compared to other areas–made it a good place to set up a medical center” Tamim al-Sarmini, a teacher at a medical center in the city, told the Syrian Voice. He likened a street in Dana to “al-Juzmatia” street in the Meydan neighborhood of Damascus, known for its restaurants and sweets shops.
“A decent number of restaurant owners from Aleppo discovered that Dana was an appropriate place for their work. The city has witnessed a resurgence in the real estate market and construction; rents and home prices are going up,” said al-Sarmini.
But rapid economic development has made life untenable for poor Syrians in villages like Samarda and Dana. A single month’s rent in Sarmada and Dana is enough to cover an entire family’s needs in another area. As a result, only the well-off, artisans or those with steady employment live in these areas.