Syrian immigrants in Turkey fearful of leaving homes after flurry of racist attacks

Gazete Duvar was in the Karşıyaka neighborhood of Turkey's southeastern Antep province to talk with Syrian residents who were subjected to racist attacks. The immigrants said they were afraid to reopen their businesses and feared for their lives after the events.

Evrim Deniz / Gazete Duvar

Following allegations of a Syrian man abusing a child in Turkey’s central Kayseri province, racist attacks targeted refugees, especially Syrians, in many provinces such as Antep, Hatay, Adana, Urfa, and Bursa.

On the night of July 1, many businesses and homes belonging to Syrian Arabs and Turkmen were stoned in multiple neighborhoods of Nizip district in the southeastern Antep province. Syrians started avoiding visible places and parks in the city and did not open their businesses.

In the aftermath, Gazete Duvar visited the Karşıyaka neighborhood to speak with the victims of the racist attacks.

Adem, who was at home when their family car was attacked, described the incident, "While sitting at home with my family, I heard a noise. I looked out the window and saw two people break the window of our parked car and then run away. We didn't understand what was happening until we saw footage from other neighborhoods. A group came to the neighborhood later that night, stoned our neighbors' shops, and threw stones at homes. The groups dispersed when the police arrived late."

Adem and family have been living in Karşıyaka for 12 years. The neighborhood is home to Turkmen and Arabs, and most shopkeepers are Turkmen, told Adem. 

The 23-year-old continued, "We no longer feel anything about what happens because whenever something occurs in the country, we are the first targets. We'll stay home for another few days, but eventually, we have to go out and work. Why attack a stationary car or burn down someone's shop? The only answer is hatred.” 

Adem complained that in his 23 years, he has seen nothing but war and poverty. “I've experienced earthquakes and every kind of racism. I just want my life to get better," he said.

Shutters of many stores are down in Karşıyaka, as Syrian immigrants fear further attacks.

Duvar also visited a Turkmen and Arab family in Karşıyaka who have lived in Turkey for 10 years. Fesih, the father, rushed home after hearing about the attacks in Antep. He shared his experience, "When the events in Kayseri spread to other cities, I left work early and came home because I have five children. As soon as I got home, I shut all doors and windows. My wife wanted to open a window because it was hot, but I didn't allow it because anything could happen—someone could throw a rock or set fire to the house at any moment. A few hours later, we started hearing noises from the neighborhood. We heard chants of 'How happy is the one who says I am a Turk' and 'Allahu Akbar,' and the sound of breaking glass."

Fesih noted that he had not left the house since the incidents, "I haven't gone to work for two days. I'm a day laborer. If I don't go tomorrow, we won't even have bread at home. Our reality is that we can be killed at any moment. I'm not afraid of death, but I want to protect my five children. I went out once to buy bread and returned in fear. This is not a life; it's a fugitive existence.”

After the events, Fesih's landlord called to ask if the house was damaged and then informed him that the rent would be doubled from 5,000 to 10,000 Turkish liras, threatening eviction if he did not accept. Many refugees in the neighborhood received similar calls from their landlords demanding rent increases after the incidents.

Fesih continued, "Whenever something happens, our landlords call us, either asking for a raise or threatening to evict us. Knowing we can't find a place during such times, we have to accept the increase. Those whose shops were stoned will bear the repair costs themselves. Who else would pay? We endure so much just to open small shops.”

He drew attention to the financial hardships experienced by the migrants in the area. “In this neighborhood, multiple families still live together. The houses are freezing in the winter, and scorching in the summer. While we live in poverty and misery, why do they even attack our shops? A young man died here in a motorcycle accident a few days ago. The family couldn't even hold a proper mourning because they couldn't afford it."

Hasan, a shopkeeper whose store was stoned and looted on July 1, also shared his experience, "I am a Turkmen who came here with my family from Syria. I worked every job imaginable, including carrying loads, to set up this shop. The attackers fled when the police arrived; otherwise, I might not be alive. I closed the shutters in tears and went home by taxi. I decided to open the shop today, but a man came and shouted, 'How dare you open your shop?' Neighbors intervened, and he left. I decided not to re-open for a few more days."

Hasan, who has lived peacefully with Arabs for years, said, "Police came yesterday to take statements and told me to say I am Turkmen if this happens again. I can't believe it. Does it mean this would be acceptable if I were Arab? We fled the war just like the Arabs, leaving our families, homes, and lives behind. We are brothers with every refugee here because we went through the same process. For the local people, we are also refugees, migrants, and enemies. When we crossed the border, my wife and I were happy to return to our homeland, but now we realize they see us as enemies."

Ayşe, a mother of three from Aleppo in northern Syria welcomed Duvar correspondents into her home and shared her fears. 

She said, "Today, my son was supposed to go to work because my husband is gone, and we have no one else to support us. But everyone was talking about a 17-year-old boy being stabbed because he was Syrian. How can I send my child to work now? We are afraid, and we don't know what our crime is. Are we guilty because we didn't die in the war? Are we guilty because we survived when bombs rained on our home and killed my husband? Someone, please tell us why we are treated like this."

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)