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Gaziantep, a sprawling Turkish metropolis of around two million people, is a major manufacturing hub, a hotbed of refugees and a melting pot of ethnic groups. The city, also known as Antep, one of its original names, was inhabited by early civilizations and has been an important trading center since ancient times.

A thousand-year-old city, Gaziantep is a place that has undergone many transformations.

“It has a very long and complicated history,” said Jesse Casana, a professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College who has spent decades doing fieldwork in Turkey and northwest Syria. “It’s a vibrant place with a very rich history that has been contested by many different imperial powers.”

Here is an overview.

Gaziantep’s geography has made it a vibrant place for centuries.

More than 10,000 years ago, Gaziantep was a Neolithic settlement near the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of agriculture, Prof Casana said. Some of the oldest remnants of human civilization lie beneath the city.

Under the Roman Empire, Gaziantep became a stop along the Silk Road, a major trade route that connected Asia and Europe. Since then, Gaziantep has become a commercial hub and has been influenced by many civilizations.

Its proximity to rich soil, with vast olive groves and vineyards, and its role as a junction between the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia, have also made it the subject of frequent territorial disputes. It was previously controlled by the Hittites, Assyrians and the Ottoman Empire, Prof Casana said.

Gaziantep is a major manufacturing hub.

The city is a hub of economic activity, exporting more than $593 million per month as of 2019, according to the city. chamber of industry. Much of its economy is supported by manufacturing, particularly textiles and food processing, chamber said.

Its textile industry, which consists mainly of small businesses, produces carpets and machine-made garments. Gaziantep is Turkey’s most important manufacturing center for carpets and for the synthetic yarns that are used to make them, the chamber said.

Gaziantep has become a food processing hub with agricultural areas located nearby. As the center of pistachio cultivation in Turkey, the chamber said, it is also famous for baklava, the sweet pastry made from nuts grown nearby.

Trays of baklava at a bakery in Gaziantep last year.Credit…Mehmet Akif Parlak/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Several other sectors focus on Gaziantep’s textiles and food processing. The metallurgical and mechanical industries produce the tools used to make carpets and food. The plastics industry produces the acrylic, polypropylene and polyester used to make yarn. And Gaziantep’s paper sector produces the paperboard used to wrap food and textiles.

The city is home to a mixture of ethnic groups.

Gaziantep’s population is a mix of communities, including ethnic Turks who make up the majority, Prof Casana said.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Gaziantep has been home to around 470,000 Syrian refugees, according to the The United Nations. But even before the war, buses full of Syrians crossed the border almost daily to shop in Gaziantep as Turkey strengthened its economic ties with Syria.

Syrians, who now make up more than 20% of the population, have transformed Gaziantep, investing and bringing business skills and cheap labor. Many of the city’s textile factories were built by Syrian migrants. Turkish and Syrian companies share buildings and workers. Hundreds of cafes, restaurants and patisseries cater to Syrians.

There is also a large Kurdish community, mostly concentrated in certain towns and neighborhoods, Professor Casana said. The Kurds are embroiled in a long-running conflict with the Turkish government. Islamic State, which has fought Kurds in Syria, has also targeted Kurds in Gaziantep, including the 2014 bombing of a Kurdish wedding, an attack that killed more than 50 people.