Beyond their borders, Turkish officials have seemed flummoxed by the region’s shifting alliances and vast unpredictability—waffling on closer ties to Israel and the EU, and continuing to support Mohammed Morsi’s ousted regime in Egypt. Bashar al-Assad’s enduring grip on power has proven the most costly, and much of Turkey’s 510-mile border with Syria is now a no-go zone. Ankara has been forced to repeatedly deny accusations that it supports al Qaeda-linked rebels, though just-released UN documents show Turkey has sent nearly 50 tons of weapons to Syria since June. And in May, twin car bombs, which Turkey believes were masterminded by Syrian intelligence, killed 53 people in Reyhanli, a border town.
That explains why Ankara had little problem saying hosgeldiniz to Sout Raya. “Hosting these broadcasting organizations linked to opposition groups in nearby countries is a departure from Turkey’s established diplomatic practice,” says Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and a fellow at Carnegie Europe. “Though Turkey probably doesn’t care what the Assad government thinks, given that the relationship at this point is non-existent.”
For war-battered Syrians, Turkey has been a haven. Ankara has spent $2.5 billion and counting on Syrian refugees. Turkish teachers have been working nights to educate Syrian children, and, with winter arriving early, the government recently allocated 40,000 apartments to refugees.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s government fears building homes for Syrians refugees will encourage them to stay, as with Palestinians a half century ago. Ataka, a far-right party in Bulgaria, is ascendant largely due to calls to expel the country’s 6,500 “terrorist” Syrian refugees. And Jordan’s massive Zaatari refugee camp has gotten so bad of late that many refugees have chosen to risk a return to their war-zone homeland rather than stay.
Fayyad, by contrast, appreciates his Istanbul sanctuary. In a neighborhood of law firms, banks, and high-end hotels, Sout Raya’s offices have hardwood floors, modern furnishings, and flat-screen monitors. The station is backed by a U.S.-based Syrian businessman and employs more than a dozen people here, all Syrian. Some 15 freelance correspondents report from Syria, using just their first name out of concern for their safety.
Getting Sout Raya up and running took Fayyad and his wife, the screenwriter Alisar Hassan, nearly nine months. Elona, their daughter, is expected in February. “Alisar likes to say we have gone from zero babies to two,” said Fayyad. In addition to a children’s show, Sout Raya presents news, Arabic music, a history program hosted by the Syrian actress Azza al-Bahra, and a comedy-drama series about a family from Latakia forced to keep relocating as the conflict nips at their heels.
On a recent afternoon, a keening song by the Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum played on-air and over the office sound system while Mahmoud Hassino, a clean-cut producer who runs a media analysis show, chatted on his mobile phone in the sound room. “We like to focus on untold stories, the stories of single people rather than the event itself,” said Hassino.