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Serious riots against Syrian refugees in Turkey

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Turkey has taken in more than three million refugees. Now there are serious riots against Syrians in Turkish cities – and anti-Turkish protests in Syria.

Violence on both sides of the border

Pogrom-like conditions on Sunday evening in Kayseri, a conservative city of a million people in the middle of Anatolia. “We don’t want any more Syrians, we don’t want any more refugees,” demonstrators shouted in chants. It didn’t stop at just words: numerous shops, houses and cars belonging to Syrians were vandalized with stones and clubs, and in at least one case even set on fire.

And although Kayseri is a stronghold of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP, the rioters are demanding that Erdogan resign. They hold him responsible for the many refugees in the country. And the refugees are accused of being the cause of the tense economic situation with high prices and a shortage of housing.

Almost 500 people taken into custody

On Monday, the protests spread to several other cities, from Gaziantep on the Syrian border to Bursa in the west. The police responded with water cannon and tear gas. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya reported the number of rioters taken into custody the following day at almost 500, many of whom had previous convictions.

There have been frequent riots against refugees in Turkey. Before the parliamentary and presidential elections last year, the umbrella organization of Syrian associations in Turkey complained about increasing violence during the election campaign. Spokesman Mohammed Aktar in Istanbul:

Yes, we see that very clearly. Unfortunately, it was the same in 2019. Before the local elections at that time, Syrians were made an election issue. They were accused of all sorts of things, including in the media. After the elections, in 2020 and 2021, we had no problems. All discussions were over in no time.

Syrian man allegedly harassed girl

There are no elections this time. The reason why mobs are still marching through the streets is a message that spread on social media: a Syrian man is said to have sexually harassed a seven-year-old Syrian girl. The man has since been arrested.

But the violence did not end there, it switched sides: as a result of the riots in Turkey, there are now anti-Turkish protests in northern Syria. “Come on, men, come on, smash the cars!” In an internet video that has been viewed around five million times in a short space of time, men attack Turkish trucks at the Al Bab border crossing with paving stones, clubs and iron bars. Windows are broken. The men shout: “Come on, get out of here! Come on, go back to Turkey!”

Speculation about meetings between Erdogan and Assad

In the eyes of the Turkish opposition, the reason for the tensions is not, or not only, the incident in Kayseri. Rather, it is speculation about a possible upcoming meeting between Turkish President Erdogan and Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. Both have been hostile towards each other since the outbreak of the Syrian war.

A possible rapprochement unsettles the Syrian refugees in Turkey on the one hand because they fear having to return to Syria and on the other hand the rebels loyal to Turkey in Syria because they fear for their protection from Erdogan.

A Turkish truck burns at the Al Bab border crossing.

Such a meeting could be arranged as early as this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most important ally. Erdogan is expected to meet Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, which begins on Wednesday in Kazakhstan.

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