Wave of online hate speech follows countrywide attacks on Syrians in Turkey


Turkish social media erupted with hate speech targeting Syrian refugees on Tuesday, following a series of attacks on the refugee community across the country since Sunday.

The surge in online hate speech comes after a series of violent attacks on Syrian refugees in Kayseri, where locals targeted their homes, workplaces and vehicles. In response to the violence against Syrians in Turkey, protests broke out in Syria’s northwestern regions controlled by Turkey on Monday. Protesters attacked Turkish trucks and pulled down Turkish flags.

The protests in Syria have sparked a wave of hateful rhetoric on social media. Posts and comments filled with vitriol against Syrians have proliferated, with many users expressing anger and resentment towards the refugee population.

A new hashtag, #suriyelilersınırdışıedilsin (Syrians should be deported), has gained traction, amplifying calls for the expulsion of refugees.

Others have used the hashtag #ülkemdesığınmacıistemiyorum (I do not want refugees in my country), further fueling the anti-migrant sentiment.

In a widely shared post on X, a clip features a historian discussing Cemal Paşa, a military leader and politician during the late Ottoman Empire known for his harsh measures against Arab nationalists in Syria.

Another post on X showed a man in Istanbul holding a knife and threatening Arabs dining in a restaurant. He shouted, “This is my country, let your tough guys come, I am Turkish. I don’t care about Arabs.”

Adding to the online furor, Muharrem İnce, a veteran politician and leader of the Memleket Party (Homeland Party), reposted a message from his party’s account: “We are not racists, but we are not fools, either. This hospitality has lasted too long. Refugees must be sent back to their countries immediately!”

In recent years refugees and minorities have become the groups most targeted by negative political rhetoric and hate speech. In such an environment, Syrians have been at the center of anti-refugee sentiment, expressed in particular on social media and often by political parties. With inflation soaring in recent years, they have been blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills.

While accusations increased as the country’s economy deteriorated, anti-Syrian sentiment among the Turkish public reached a tipping point following massive earthquakes in southern Turkey in February 2023 that wreaked widespread devastation. More alarmingly, anti-refugee and anti-Syrian rhetoric has been picked up by opposition politicians who have resorted to racist and xenophobic speech, thinking they are criticizing the government.

Ümit Özdağ, leader of the far-right Victory Party (ZP), previously warned Turkish citizens of a “Syrian threat” in a video shared on Twitter.

In 2023 Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the soft-spoken former main opposition leader and presidential candidate, said refugees need to be urgently expelled from the country.

Discriminatory discourse and hate speech have a long history in Turkey. Since the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic, hate speech has been used in political campaigns. Armenians, for example, have been portrayed as enemies and associated with violence, terrorism and massacres (in the context of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict). Greeks were targeted following escalating tensions between Greece and Turkey over drilling and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Jews have also been a target of hate speech, particularly after Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Some Turkish media outlets has in recent years become an important instrument in demonizing migrants and refugee groups, in particular Syrian refugees, by circulating hateful political rhetoric and discriminatory remarks.

However, hate crime as a legal term did not appear on the public agenda until the murder of Armenian journalist and activist Hrant Dink in 2007. Since this tragic incident, hate crime has been used and discussed more frequently in the Turkish media and by the general public.

A report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom titled “Hate Speech and Hate Crimes Against Syrian Refugees in Turkey” delves into the history of xenophobic and discriminatory speech in the country. It explains how refugees and minorities have become the groups most targeted by negative political rhetoric and hate speech. The report also examines the communication tools used to spread hate speech, the inadequate integration policies and the reasons behind the normalization of hate crimes. It includes reported cases of hate speech and hate crimes against Syrian refugees and concludes with recommendations for the Turkish government, international organizations, EU institutions, civil society, rights groups and media outlets.

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