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

A city that is millenniums old, Gaziantep is a place that has undergone change many times.

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

Here is an overview.

Gaziantep’s geography made it a dynamic place for centuries.

More than 10,000 years ago, Gaziantep was a Neolithic settlement near the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of agriculture, Professor Casana said. Some of the oldest remains of human civilization can be found beneath the city.

Under the Roman Empire, Gaziantep became a stop along the Silk Road, a major trade route that linked Asia and Europe. Since then, Gaziantep has become a commercial hub and borne the influence of many civilizations.

Its proximity to rich soil, with extensive olive groves and vineyards, and its role as a juncture between the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia, has also made it the subject of frequent territorial contestation. It was previously controlled by the Hittites, Assyrians and the Ottoman Empire, Professor Casana said.

Gaziantep is an important manufacturing center.

The city is a hub for economic activity, with exports of over $593 million per month as of 2019, according to the city’s chamber of industry. Much of its economy is supported by manufacturing, particularly textiles and food processing, the chamber said.

Its textile industry, which consists mostly of smaller enterprises, produces machine-made carpets and clothing. Gaziantep is Turkey’s most important manufacturing hub for carpets and for the synthetic yarns that are used to make them, the chamber said.

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

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

Several other sectors focus on Gaziantep’s textiles and food processing. The metal and machinery industries produce the tools used to make the carpets and food. The plastic industry produces the acrylic, polypropylene and polyester used to make the yarn. And Gaziantep’s paper sector produces the cardboard used to package the food and textiles.

The city is home to a mix of ethnic groups.

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

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Gaziantep has become home to about 470,000 Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations. But even before the war, busloads of Syrians were crossing the border almost daily to shop in Gaziantep as Turkey pushed stronger economic ties with Syria.

Syrians, who now make up more than 20 percent 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 pastry shops there cater to Syrians.

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

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