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Behind the Lens: Crossing the Orontes, Come Hell or High Water

Written by Bradley Secker Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

The Orontes River (al ‘Asi in Arabic, meaning “rebel”) has its source in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and flows north into Syria, through the embattled cities of Homs and Hama, before crossing into Turkey. There, near the village of Hacipasa, it forms the international border with Syria.

The Orontes is being used to transport people, medicines and supplies between Turkey and its war-torn neighbor. Smugglers bring tens of people across everyday, along with supplies vital to isolated areas of Syria’s western Idlib province.

The injured are brought across the water for treatment in Turkish hospitals, and refugees also use this illegal method of crossing if they don’t have passports. In winter, safe passage becomes less manageable as the river swells. Boats must be guided with a rope to prevent them from drifting downstream.

Nearby, the official border crossing at Yayladagi-Bab al Kasab remains under Syrian regime control, it’s the final border point in the regime’s grip between Turkey and Syria, with the others having been taken by opposition forces. The informal crossing is used by villagers and humanitarian organizations to avoid government detection, and gain access to the otherwise difficult to reach Jabal Turkman (Turkish mountain) area in Latakia province, home to Bashar al-Assad’s home town, Qardaha.

At the start of the second spring since Syrians began uprising against their government, I went to see the continuing crossing at Hacipasa.

The crossing lies just a short distance from a Turkish military outpost, although no action has been taken to prevent people crossing the river banks. On this visit, the scene was calm, and it was being used to transport food, and people to and from Syria. Men waited on the Turkish side to receive relatives crossing from Syria, women crossed to Turkey, and men took food back to their villages in Syria.

A few months previous I’d watched the town of Azmarin being shelled by helicopters, and Turkish villagers took bread, gas and water across the river to the village, and collected the injured before taking them to hospital in Turkey.

There’s no official name for the crossing, as it’s just a river bank. It’s close to Hacipasa town in Turkey, and Darkoush in Syria. There aren’t any regime soldiers there as it’s in a liberated (FSA) part of Idlib province. It seems like the Turkish authorities haven’t taken any action as they aren’t interested, or because they don’t know exactly where it is, although it’s been in the media before.

Bradley Secker is a freelance photographer based in Antakya, Turkey. His work from the region has been published in The Guardian, TIME and other publications.

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