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Syrians in Turkey Left to Fend for Themselves Against Discriminatory Crimes

Published on 06.07.2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

Extrajudicial killings of Syrians during recent incidents in some Turkish cities are considered a form of “hate sentiment.” The responsibility for this hatred is shared between opposition parties and the government, which turns a blind eye and delays in containing the situation.

For many Syrians, coming to terms with the idea that racial incidents against them in Turkey are normal and recurring is just as dangerous as some Turks accepting the notion that attacking Syrians does not necessarily carry legal consequences. This is the deadly equation.

Speaking of legal consequences, a recently created Telegram channel by extremists and racists hostile to Syrians leaked the personal data of more than 2.5 million Syrians. This data included full names, Turkish ID numbers, and residential addresses, exposing millions to danger as racism reaches unprecedented levels.

The question here is: If this data exists solely in the records of the Turkish Ministry of Interior, how was it leaked into the hands of a group of Turkish racists?

Following the racially charged events in Kayseri, which resulted in the vandalism and burning of Syrian properties and physically assaulting individuals, came the news of a young Syrian man being killed by a group of Turks in Antalya. This was followed by an attack on a Syrian family in Istanbul.

The Turkish Minister of Interior announced the arrest of 474 individuals in connection with the violence in Kayseri, 285 of whom have criminal records for various offenses. This means that more than half of the attackers are repeat offenders, a fact that has become almost expected following most hate incidents in Turkey.

The minister’s surprising statement was his call for the residents of Kayseri to remain calm, act with moderation, and avoid provocations, without his statement including any threat of legal consequences for the perpetrators of hate crimes.

Extrajudicial killings of Syrians during recent incidents in some Turkish cities are considered a form of “hate sentiment.” The responsibility for this hatred is shared between opposition parties and the government, which turns a blind eye and delays in containing the situation. It is well known that Turkish domestic politics and competition between various secular, nationalist, and religious parties have primarily relied on stoking sentiments against Syrians. Although the period after the local elections and before the presidential elections saw a decrease in inciting politicians’ voices, the events in Kayseri have brought the Syrian presence in Turkey back to the forefront.

The impact of racist incidents against Syrians has become evident in most cities, with streets almost devoid of them, many closing their businesses, and their fear increasing after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave the Ministry of Interior the task of deporting illegal immigrants. Under this directive, thousands of Syrians have been deported, with human rights organizations documenting many forced, not voluntary, deportations. The Presidential Communications Directorate has even issued daily bulletins on the number of “voluntary returnees” to northern Syria, seemingly to appease the Turkish public.

A large part of Turkish society is known for being conservative, respecting customs, traditions, and religious laws, and not tolerating harassment or sexual assault. In similar Turkish incidents, the harasser is punished by angry citizens through beating, but never has an entire neighborhood collectively attacked another neighborhood because of the perpetrator’s background. Nor have there been extrajudicial executions or looting of shops. Usually, the state intervenes quickly and decisively. However, what happened in Kayseri was different. After a tweet on the X platform about a Syrian assailant, and before the truth could be revealed, angry mobs reacted with retaliatory violence against anyone suspected of being Syrian. This violence quickly spread to cities like Bursa, Hatay, Reyhanlı, Adana, Gaziantep, Antalya, and others. People took the opportunity to express their hatred toward foreigners and refugees. This reaction cannot be understood as mere limited hostility toward refugees due to their inappropriate behavior or cultural differences. Rather, it can be explained by the fact that right-wing nationalist movements exploited the severe economic problems, currency collapse, and near-total loss of confidence in the government’s ability to improve the economy, directing society’s anger toward migrants and blaming them for the deteriorating situation.

In a country deeply divided politically, it was not difficult for politicians to deepen the discourse of hatred, all for narrow political gains to expand their popular base. They ignored the fact that the results of hate speech in Turkish society are spiraling out of control and becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

In summary, everyone is complicit in promoting hate speech. This discourse has even been adapted to align with state language, and perhaps for this reason, state officials have used similar language to calm the mobs who have become sensitive and have started carrying out extrajudicial executions in Kayseri.

“We have seen your reaction. We understand you. We received your message. (…) Please take your families and go home. We will do what is necessary, I promise.”

These were the words of a high-ranking Turkish official speaking from Kayseri. The truly surprising statement was his comment, “The child who was harassed is not Turkish,” meant to calm the people. In other words, he used language that indicated there was no need for anger because the child was not “one of us.” This actually provides much insight into how “racism” is legitimized, or at least how it suggests that the victim does not deserve sympathy unless they are “one of us.”

The words of Atatürk, “beloved and revered by the Turks,” that “humanity is one body, and each nation is a part of that body, and we must never say what does it matter to me if a part of the world is sick,” seem irrelevant in Turkey today. Racism in Turkey currently appears to rely on excluding Syrians even from Atatürk’s words, as if humanity must be without Syrians for this saying to hold true.

Published on 06.07.2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

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