February 18, 2015

SPARK IGNITE: Gaziantep Was Once Famous for its Pistachios

*Written by SPARK Syrian Programme Coordinator Nasser Ishaq and Programme Intern Gabriela Bergan

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Gaziantep – a city located in the south of Turkey bordering Syria and situated about 170 km north of Aleppo – is famous for housing delicious pistachios, magical carpets, and the best cuisine in Turkey. It is also known for being an economic hub and trading centre for the entire Middle East region. However, in recent years, Gaziantep has been associated with the Syrian conflict as it hosts a large number of Syrian refugees and the refugee camps around the city. Gaziantep also hosts the Syrian Interim Government. 1.5 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey and 30% of them reside outside of camps. The majority of the refugee population consists of women and youth. Meanwhile, refugees are not the only ones coming to Gaziantep: given its political circumstances and strategic location, many NGOs operate here, presenting a unique opportunity to network and coordinate the successful implementation of projects.


As the number of refugees continues to increase, so does the amount of youth dropping out of formal education. SPARK is offering higher education opportunities to Syrian students and activists who will play a crucial role in the reconstruction of Syrian society. As well as actively rebuilding their country, Syrian refugees also contribute to their host community by fostering good relations with the Turks.

Our Gaziantep team is currently taking forward three projects. Firstly, SPARK will continue assisting the University of Gaziantep with a scholarship scheme for Syrian students residing in Turkey. The second project, Gaziantep Youth Entrepreneurship Programme, provides business skills training, a Business Plan Competition and seeds a capital grant and assistance for the winners of the competition to implement their start-ups. The third and major project is assisting the Syrian Interim Government’s Ministry of Education in setting up a higher vocational institute for Syrian students in Gaziantep and as well as one in Syria.

Early testimonies from local Syrians welcome and praise our efforts in supporting higher education. Yet, urgent and effective the response remains insufficient for many Syrian students who are falling deeper into uncertainty about their future. This is where SPARK is stepping in to provide a leading example in supporting Syrian higher education.


With no illusions here, these upcoming months will undoubtedly be the most difficult. The ever-changing battleground in Syria, combined with shifts in political alliances and consequent consideration and reconsideration of diplomatic dynamics and network affiliations, certainly complicate our vision for efficient implementation. Meanwhile, it is crucial for us to be active on the ground, because Syrian students are counting on assistance during this uncertain time. They are eager to prepare for a future which entails the rebuilding of Syria. With our current operations solidifying, the Gaziantep team is ready to take real action that can have immeasurable impact.

SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, and what inspire us to do what we do.  We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]