While this is written at the same time as riots over in the US over the police killing of a young black man, it’s pretty much a coincidence as I’m not writing about that.
A couple of weeks ago I finally finished Ahmet Ümit’s book the Pera Trees Whisper. The story is set around Beyoglu, but more specifically Tarlabasi and Dolapdere–run down areas of Istanbul behind Taksim. But interesting to me as I used to work in Dolapdere, and it was not an area that I would like to hang around in after dark, I would be straight back on to the service bus to get into Taksim and start my journey home to the other side of the Bosphorus. What that meant was I didn’t have time to explore what Ahmet describes as the run down houses which once belonged to the middle class Greeks and Armenians who owned many of the shops in the (then) wealthy Tarlabasi and Istiklal Caddesi. Why would I want to really, after all although it’s fiction the description of run down, abandoned homes, that now house street kids who are often glue sniffers probably wasn’t so far off the mark in 2000. And while it’s common knowledge that Istanbul was once a thriving cosmopolitan city fully of Greeks, Armenians, Jews and other ethnic minorities, I hadn’t really delved very deep into how this had all changed. That is until Ahmet Ümit mentions 6th September. He doesn’t give a year, apparently he doesn’t need to that date is well known amongst Turks who live through it, but to me I had not heard this before. The date is described in the book by some emigre’s who come back to visit family who remained as one where suddenly a Turkish policeman who had always relied on a Greek doctor for his daughter turned around to say he could no longer help the family because that day he was a ‘nationalist’ and a Turk first and foremost.
Of course there are dark periods in most country’s histories, and certainly periods where one minority or other is targeted. Reading this sparked a conversation with husband but more than that it has made me aware of a situation emerging in Mersin, and some other cities at the moment.
If you come to Mersin there are very many Syrian cars. To me, the increasing prevalence of Syrians here over the years just seemed to be a natural consequence of events taking place, that not all those escaping the war ended up in the refugee camps. Often the cars we see are hardly small so those in Mersin, despite having lost a great deal, were not necessarily the poorest. Plus a large proportion of them are possibly pro Assad, and got out of the country early on. It wasn’t till we visited Adana the other day that I noticed Mersin is unusual, as we did not see any Syrian cars while we were there, and we saw a lot of cars as we were snarled up in horrific traffic–I won’t digress into how bad Adana drivers are.
Of course there are Syrians in other cities too, most notably Gaziantep, well there were until a few days ago. We were sat listening to the news when we heard about a dispute in Gaziantep between a Syrian tenant and his landlord. I didn’t hear the whole thing but apparently there was a fight and the landlord was killed by the tenant. In an attempt to prevent tensions from bubbling over all Syrians who had settled in Gaziantep have apparently been rounded up and sent back to the, overflowing, refugee camps nearer the border. Hearing this sparked another conversation where Husband explained that on top of having very few rights in Turkey as refugees, many Syrians who have inevitably started to run out of money and haven’t been able to set up businesses in Turkey, desperately need money to survive. The thing is it means that many are willing to work illegally, and employers are happy to take them on as they can pay them less than a Turk and they don’t pay any insurances (health, retirement etc) which are mandatory for Turks. With unemployment very high, especially for poorly educated unskilled working class Turks, this inevitably becomes a spark for problems.
It’s not until we delve a bit deeper that we find that the attitude towards Syrians and treatment of them is pretty crap. At the end of our site is public land with a park that has a neglected ‘sports’ park, basket ball court, and football pitch. Each evening I have seen quite a few lads playing football, I just assumed they were boys from our site, but it wasn’t till we were down there the other day that we saw they were all Syrian men of all ages playing football each evening. As far as we were aware no one in our site was Syrian, but in fairness we hardly know who lives here, so where were they living? It was then we encountered the not so casual racism. No there are no Syrians in our site because they are not allowed. I have no idea who made the decision that no Syrian could rent or purchase a property here, probably the management council (who are also rather anti child in our view). Hearing this made me feel rather sick, but worse was to come. The site next door decided that Syrians could rent there, but here’s the kicker: if you want to rent an apartment in our site it’s 600TL tops (about £150) per month, if you want to rent an apartment in the site next door, where Syrian families now live it’s 1000TL, a 400TL difference is hardly insignificant, is just over £100! This is not a country where an extra £100 each month is easy to come by, especially if when you find a job you’ll be earning less than a Turk on minimum wage.
I must admit hearing stories like this has saddened me so much. Turks always like to pride themselves on being so welcoming. Perhaps this is true when an individual Turk is face with a small number of yabanci’s (this means strangers not only foreigners, so anyone from another place and can include Turks). I worry that parties like MHP will jump on such stories and there’ll be spate of Daily Mail type anti immigration articles. Sadly it was probably inevitable, in that Turkey just wasn’t prepared for a conflict on it’s doorstep to last this long and to cause so many people to have to leave their homes.
But, uh! Of all the issues I had with this site I now discover I’m living somewhere with the equivalent of a “No Blacks” sign on the door. I really do feel quite sickened. I’m now party to something I really can’t agree with. It’s not like we can just move because we own this place, and that just moves away from the problem, it doesn’t help to solve it.