The north Aleppo countryside zone stretching from Azaz to Jarabulus along the border with Turkey is known as 'Euphrates Shield.' There is an extensive Turkish military presence in that zone and Turkey has financed a number of projects in it. Local councils, meanwhile, provide services and work directly with Turkey.
To get a better sense of the functioning of local councils in the 'Euphrates Shield' zone, I interviewed Muhammad Hamdan Yusuf, the head of the local council of Azaz. Yusuf is a school teacher by profession and was born in 1950. He has worked with the Azaz local council for 3 years and was previously director of its education office.
The interview, which was conducted on 10 March 2019, has been slightly condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Firstly can you tell me a little about the structure of the local council currently?
A: The local council in Azaz is composed of 15 members and 12 executive offices. Work began for the new tenure on 14 October 2018 after elections were held with oversight from Kilis governorate [in Turkey].
Q: What are the executive offices exactly?
A: Head of the council, the legal office, the media office, the educational office, the medical office, the services office, sports office, financial office, cultural office, relief office, business office, public relations office. And there is a new office for tracking the affairs of the aid organizations.
Q: The elections of last year were popular elections?
A: Yes, they were done through the representation of 140 families in Azaz. A person representing each family in Azaz was sent [to vote].
Q: I see. So the voters were of the notables of the locality, right?
A: Yes, exactly.
Q: What are the greatest accomplishments of the local council recently?
A: Furbishing all the schools in the town of Azaz and its countryside in addition to furnishing the university building and opening a branch of Antep University. Furbishing the national hospital and furnishing 6 medical clinics in Azaz. Issuing a crossing card for merchants to the Turkish office through the merchant [office]. Updating the new personal ID card issued by the civil record secretariat in Azaz that is connected with the Turkish system. Opening a transport directorate for numbering and registration of small, medium and large vehicles for the town of Azaz, Marea, Sawran, Akhtarin and al-Ra'i. Implementing a new real estate registration directorate through documenting the real estate and preserving possessions and rights of citizens. Drawing out drinking water from the Midanki dam to Azaz. Delivering electricity through a private company with which an agreement was made as electricity has been delivered to most of the neighbourhoods of he town in addition to delivering it to the areas of the countryside currently. Repairing the roads inside the town with interlocking stone and projecting is still underway in addition to repairing some of them through asphalt. Furbishing the public garden inside the town. Opening the sports oversight centre. Furnishing a large stadium inside the town.
Q: Does national grid electricity come from Turkey to Azaz currently?
A: No. Thermal plants have been furnished inside the town.
Q: So the local council is responsible for the thermal plants in the locality?
A: The council secured the building and the company tracks the work within a memorandum of mutual understanding.
Q: The company is a Turkish company?
A: Yes and there are Syrian partners.
Q: How are matters of gas for heating during winter going?
A: Gas has been secured through the business office such that the price of the cylinder should not exceed 8 dollars.
Q: And the gas comes from Turkey?
A: Of course.
Q: So praise be to God there is no gas crisis in Azaz?
A: Praise be to God: [there is no gas crisis] in Azaz and the entire region.
Q: What is the nature of relations between the local council in Azaz and the so-called interim government?
A: There are no relations.
Q: I heard that the local council generally speaking works directly with Turkey.
A: All the councils and not only the Azaz council [work directly with Turkey] and that is because of the absence of the role of the [interim] government and the provincial council.
Q: Yes. So the interim government has no influence in the area. Correct?
Q: What are the main challenges for the local council currently?
A: The most important challenges facing the council are the great population pressure as a result of forced displacement for some regions, increasing the burden of the council and impacting the infrastructure and work stress in addition to the spread of unemployment in a great sense.
Q: What are the main sources of income for the council?
A: From the ovens, post centre and business office.
Q: As for Bab al-Salama crossing there is no income from it?
Q: As for the protests [against the council last year] this problem was resolved through holding new elections?