When traveling boats leave from Istanbul in the evening, Arabic chants reverberate in the Bosphorus. “You don’t even think you’re in Istanbul anymore,” complains a Turkish resident of the metropolis. Bay Area families stroll along the banks, Arabic is spoken on the shopping streets, and Syrian refugee children beg at the crossroads.
During the Islamic sacrificial festivities over the past few days, the crowds of Arabs were especially noticeable. For many Turks, the festival was a turning point: the mood turned into open hostility against the Arabs.
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Xenophobia is directed not only against Arab tourists and 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but also against wealthy migrants from the Middle East who secure Turkish passports by buying property.
An investment of $250,000 is enough for the buyer and his family to acquire Turkish citizenship, and many interested parties from politically unstable or repressive Middle East countries gratefully accept the invitation. Iraqis, Iranians and Saudis are the major foreign buyers.
Prejudices and rumors about Arabs are the same as in Europe. “They sell 14-year-old girls as prostitutes,” says an angry shopkeeper on Istiklal Kaddesi shopping street in the center of Istanbul. Videos are circulating on the Internet in which people who are believed to be taking Arab baths on the beach chant “God is great” loudly. Foreign infiltration is being feared.
Some cities on Turkey’s border with Syria now have more Syrians than Turks. It is now so far away in the border province of Hatay that Syrians feel like masters and ask the Turks to leave the area, claims former parliamentary speaker Husametin Sindoruk.
like strangers in your own city
Long-established Istanbul residents report that they feel like strangers in their own city – because of the tourists, the many hookah cafes, and because there are more Arabic shop signs in parts of the city than there are Turkish ones. According to local media reports, 16 million live in the metropolis, with an estimated two million Arabs, including about a million Syrians.
A Turkish academic who spent a few years in Europe says he can now better understand foreign debate in the EU. Angry Turks took to Twitter to vent their anger on the Arabs under the hashtag #GitmeVaktinizGeldi. A television commentator close to the government who advocates the rapid naturalization of refugees is scorned as an “Arab homosexual”.
The opposition has found the subject for itself. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is calling on Syrian refugees to return to their homeland and, due to the growing number of refugees from Afghanistan, speaks of a “question of fate” for the country. Tanju Izkan, a fellow member of the Kilikdaroglu party and mayor of Istanbul’s former Bolu city, wants to drive foreigners out of the city with high special fees for water and sewage. The local politician said cutting city aid to foreigners or refusing to set up businesses was not enough. “You must go.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was surprised by the discussion. For years Erdogan was able to rely on the tolerance of the Turks for his “open door policy” in Syria and justify accepting the Syrian people as a humanitarian duty.
Erdogan either missed the change in the mood of the population or did not take it seriously. Critics like Kilicdaroglu are now up for attack. Erdogan should fill his 1000-room palace in Ankara with Afghans, Kilicdaroglu said in a video on Twitter.
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