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A Circus School Near the Syrian Border

You can see Syria from the highlands of Mardin. Though it’s now closed, this is the border that thousands of refugees have crossed to get to safety in the past four-and-a-half years. Many have moved on since, but more than 100,000 Syrians have made a home here, in southeast Turkey.

With its narrow alleys and stone staircases, the town of Mardin overlooks the green Mesopotamian valley. Assyrians, Mongols, Armenians, Egyptians and Turks have lived within its ancient walls since the Third Century. Today, Mardin is a rare example of cohabitation between Muslims, Jews, Christians and Yazidis. The Ulu mosque was once the Church of St Thomas, and it’s frequent to hear a conversation started in Turkish being finished in Arabic or Kurdish, or to see a Christian and a Muslim converse around a tea or a beer.

The neighborhood of Station sits on the town’s periphery, on the road that leads to the airport and a bit further, to the border with Syria. Children play on the abandoned train track that cuts through a group of crumbling buildings where they live. With little to do but work and wait for the day they can return home, these young refugees have few distractions. The founders of Her Yerde Sanat, though, are trying to change that.

The school is a place where Turks, Syrians, and Iraqis can connect, in a society where racism towards refugees is rife. Kubra, (right), is a student who wants to specialize in child psychology.

A cultural education can pull children out of their refugee status

Created by Pinar Demiral and Serdal Adam in 2011, the circus school, whose name translates to “Art Everywhere,” teaches juggling, stilt walking, and the trapeze, as well as Arabic and Turkish language. It was designed as a place to share and learn, offering a “normal” lifestyle to kids who have lost everything.

The day begins with circus workshops. Troupes that pass through the area, like Circus Road Trip, come to share their teachings in scarf acrobatics, ball balancing, or the trapeze.

Many refugee children can’t go to public school here because they don’t speak the language or they have to work to support their families. Here, teachers speak Kurdish and Arabic and activities are available in the evening time. The idea is to fill in the gaps left by humanitarian organizations working in the region. According to Her Yerde Sanat’s founders, a cultural education can pull children out of their refugee status by giving them a space to build confidence.

Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey today. As the conflict drags on, those who remain in the country now have to address issues that will affect them in the longer term. When it comes to education and self-development, the circus school of Her Yerde Sanat is a small step in that direction.

This family’s three children came from Syria four years ago, and all attend the school, where they learn Turkish as well as Arabic and Kurdish. The family depends on the school to educate the children.

The students at circus school are taught to take care of each other, keep each other safe, and to know their limits. In this improvised stilt demonstration, the older students show the younger ones what they’re capable of.

Mustefa is both a student and a teacher at Her Yerde Sanat. He says he will go back to Syria as soon as it is possible.

The teenagers learn advanced Turkish. The classes are mixed, but there are few boys, because they work to help their family. On the board are Turkish and Arabic words.

The children have fun putting into practice what they’ve learned.

Students juggle on a rooftop that overlooks the Syrian border.

Lava, a young Syrian, demonstrates her contortion skills for her father, who just returned from his job on a construction site. A former mechanic, he was lucky: often, it is sons ages 15-20 that must provide for their families by working as tea waiters.

Antonin Weber / Hanslucas
Antonin Weber / Hanslucas is a photojournalist specializing in multimedia storytelling. Born in Belgium, he lived in Vietnam as a child and then in Turkey for his studies. A sociology graduate from the University of Paris 8, he is passionate about issues of immigration and co-existence.
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