I visited Samandağı town in Hatay. Samandağı has become important following the developments in Syria. The town gained notoriety after the downing of a Turkish F-4 jet, which fell after flying low over Samandağ.
Samandağı is a region where different ethnic groups (Turkish, Arab, Armenian), religions (Muslim, Christians) and sects (Alevi and Sunni) live in peace and harmony. Despite the diverse composition in terms of ethnicity, religion and sect in Samandağı, located near the Syrian border, the residential areas are so diverse and pluralist that you cannot identify a village or neighborhood by a certain religion or ethnicity. Samandağı people are known as hardworking and entrepreneurs who start businesses in different parts of the world.
You may see a lot of people whose grandparents have worked in the US for many years. There are many Samandağı people in not only Middle Eastern countries, but also in Latin American countries. Samandağı is also a leading city in the transportation business and export of fruits and vegetables. It is the only municipality where the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) won in the most recent local elections. Samandağı people are tolerant and well educated. However, municipal services and urban planning are terribly poor. The municipality, civil society organizations and local papers have strong disagreements. However, despite these disagreements, they have one thing in common: They all support Bashar al-Assad.
This town becomes particularly important because the people in Samandağı hold different views on the Syrian developments and the ongoing war in that country. The incidents in Syria (asylum seekers, Free Syrian Army, etc.) have a direct impact in the predominantly Sunni Amik region (Antakya, Yayladağı, Altınözü, Reyhanlı, Kırıkhan). There is not a single asylum seeker from Syria in predominantly Alevi Samandağı. With the exception of some intellectuals who support Assad, nobody comes from Syria to the town.
The “Early July Festival” is held on July 14 every year in Samandağı. The festival, a celebration of abundance and blessing, was banned after the Sept. 12 military coup because July 14 was the national day of the French. The ban was lifted three years ago. Now the day is celebrated with people going to Çevlik Beach where they have fun dancing the halay until early morning. Local food is cooked and distributed to the people. During this year’s festival, a panel discussion on the Middle East and Syria was held. The view and approach of the speakers and participants in the event are the same. Samandağı strongly supports Assad. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is seen as a terrorist organization. The people in the town overall hold the following view: “A vicious game is being played in the Middle East. Everything was nice and smooth in Syria. The US deliberately provoked the people in this country to implement its ‘Greater Middle East Project.’ Turkey will be next after Assad. The goal of the US is to divide Turkey.”
Some nine days after the Feast of the Sacrifice, the Gadir-i Hum Festival will be observed in Samandağı. This is an occasion to celebrate the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad in Ghadeer Khum (pronounced Gadir-i Hum by the locals) near Juhfa between Mecca and Medina where he reportedly announced that Ali was his caliph and the next imam of the ummah. Working is considered a sin during the one-day Gadir-i Hum Festival. No cleaning is performed in the houses. All workplaces including public offices are closed.
You should pay a visit to St. Simon Monastery on your way to Samandağı. Take the mountain road in Aknehir town, known for its traditional summer festivals. Through your travel to St. Simon Monastery where you can get a better view of the Mediterranean Sea, you will see huge wind turbines along the road. At the monastery, you can see Kel Mountain, Çevlik Beach, Musa Mountain and the radar bases. In the opposite direction are the tomb of Hızır, Titus Tunnel, rock tombs and the Dor Temple built in the name of Zeus. Go see St. Simon Monastery to better understand the route of the Turkish F-4 reconnaissance aircraft and how it was downed. St. Simon will give you some tips and insights.