Refugee Women Cook Up Syrian Cuisine To Eke Out A Living In Turkey : The Salt Many of the millions of Syrians living as refugees in Turkey have realized they're unlikely to make it home soon. So some of the women are turning their knowledge of Syrian cooking into a business.
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Refugee Women Cook Up Syrian Cuisine To Eke Out A Living In Turkey

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Refugee Women Cook Up Syrian Cuisine To Eke Out A Living In Turkey

Refugee Women Cook Up Syrian Cuisine To Eke Out A Living In Turkey

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we have been reporting this weekend, the U.S.-led raids in Syria were limited, targeting suspected chemical weapons sites. But that is just the latest chapter in Syria's brutal civil war, which is now in its eighth year. Millions of Syrians have fled the carnage in their homeland. Of those refugees, more than 3 1/2 million are now in Turkey. They often live on meager rations and struggle to fill the hours in refugee camps. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on a group of Syrian women who have found a way to beat the boredom and help some of their fellow refugees.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The first thing that hits you is the noise - Syrian children playing in one corner, separated by a small fence from the rest of the large space, a former textile factory that's been transformed into a commercial kitchen.

The women's solidarity refugee kitchen is the new creation of a group of Syrian women who looked at the apparently never-ending war in their homeland and decided they'd better find a way to support their families here in Turkey. A young woman named Feride Abic shows me the setup.

FERIDE ABIC: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: She says, "the first thing we do is wash our hands, find our gloves and wash the food." Working in a commercial kitchen has more rules than cooking at home, as they make large quantities of Syrian-style Mezze, breads, salads and stews. Helping the women get their venture off the ground is Zeynep Kurmus Hurbas. She's a Turkish woman I met two years ago, distributing clothes and food to needy families. She says these women asked if there was something useful they could do. And when a grant made it possible to open this kitchen, they launched the catering business.

ZEYNEP KURMUS HURBAS: But they're doing falafels really well, and I never actually ate falafels before here because I didn't like them. But they make it differently. They put sesame seeds on top. And it's lightly fried, so it's, like, really crispy on the outside and really smooth on the inside.

KENYON: Fifty-five-year-old Maryam Ahmed is from Northeastern Syria. She says they're just getting started, but it feels great to be useful instead of a burden on their host city.

MARYAM AHMED: (Through interpreter) Now, we're starting to feel more like we belong here, like we have lives actually. When we escaped from the war, we were really depressed, just sitting behind closed doors. Now, we feel part of the community. It's much better.

KENYON: It's a case of a grassroots, small-scale solution to larger problems vexing Turkey. Metin Corabatir at the Research Center for Migration and Asylum says Turkey would like, for instance, to move Syrian refugees out of camps and into more permanent housing. But a growing share of the Turkish population doesn't like hearing the words refugees and permanent in the same sentence.

METIN CORABATIR: Nobody knows what to do, which includes from the top down. That is why Mr. President Erdogan occasionally puts forward some ideas like giving them citizenship. But all these things create new public reaction.

KENYON: As the women planned for a weekend of cooking, Zeynep Hurbas says they've had early success. At one three-day conference they catered, their food vanished so quickly on the first day, they stayed up much of the night making more. But Hurbas knows this transition from helpless refugees to active community members also confirms something she told me two years ago - for these people and millions like them, home is still far away.

HURBAS: And that's why I tell you, you know, it's important for that Syrian woman to go shopping from that Turkish store because at one point, in 10 years, their children will marry Turkish children because - I'm just very pessimistic about this, but I think this is not going to end anytime soon.

KENYON: She hopes she's wrong. But for now, it remains just a hope. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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