Syrian refugees prepare to reopen shops in Ankara neighborhood shaken by violent protests

Photo: T24

Syrian shop owners in Ankara’s Altındağ district are preparing to reopen their shops on Friday following violent protests and looting that shook the neighborhood last week.

According to the T24 news website, Syrian shop owners claimed they were not allowed to reopen until Friday despite the fact that no official ban was issued by the governor’s office. Most Syrians left their homes a couple of days ago for the first time since the protests to clean and repair their shops and get ready to reopen.

Speaking to Eray Görgülü of T24, Syrian shop owner Mahmud Rajvani said he has been operating a market in Altındağ for seven years and experienced no problems until last week. “But that day when the protests started, I had to close my shop and go to my brother’s home. … We didn’t leave home out of fear for a whole week,” he added.

According to Rajvani, his store was looted. “The stolen merchandise amounts to at least TL 80,000 [$9,500],” he said. “I’m already in debt, what am I going to do?”

Anti-migrant protesters attacked houses, shops and cars owned by Syrians in Ankara’s Altındağ district last Tuesday and Wednesday following reports that a Syrian refugee stabbed two Turkish men in a fight.

Images on social media showed dozens of angry people throwing rocks at homes, smashing shops and cars and burning merchandise looted from shops believed to belong to Syrian refugees.

Musa Güvercin, a Turkish resident of the neighborhood, said number of incidents between Syrians and Turks had increased in the recent past, especially in parks, but no precautions were taken by the police. Most of his customers are Syrian, and his sales dropped drastically after the violent protests.

“The protests started as a result of the murder. There were no problems in the beginning,” Güvercin said. “But after mobs from outside the neighborhood started coming, they stoned the homes and workplaces, and some looted the shops.”

Taxi drivers speaking to T24 on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal confirmed Güvercin’s account. “People were right to protest, but it wasn’t right at all to stone homes,” they said. “We think the second group that came to the neighborhood from outside came to provoke people and loot.”

Like Güvercin, they also said almost all their customers were Syrians, so the violent protests hurt their business.

Hate crimes against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles, have been escalating in the country in recent years.

Turkish media including pro-government and opposition outlets fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.

In March a Syrian refugee was assaulted by a group of streetcleaners in southern Antalya province. The man was beaten and his motorcycle was crushed with a garbage truck and set on fire.

Anti-migrant sentiment has also been expressed by opposition politicians. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power.

Tanju Özcan, the mayor of Bolu province from the CHP, recently said an additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax would be imposed on refugees living in Bolu.

“We cut their benefits and stopped giving them business licenses to open shops, but they didn’t leave,” he said during a meeting at city hall. “The city council will meet next week, and we will discuss raising their taxes.”

According to  UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

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