After July 20, seventeen cities in Turkey had to fight wildfires for almost two weeks. The technical and structural deficiencies experienced while fighting against wildfires caused controversy and dissension between the public and government. The public tension increased immensely as some footage and photographs started circling on social media platforms, claiming that Syrian and/or Afghan refugees were caught in various forests trying to start a fire or escaping the city after allegedly starting fires. These erroneous claims caused public turbulence, which resulted in Turkish people gathering personal information from various people based on their own assumptions and judgments by blocking the roadways and asking for Turkish ID cards. Unfortunately, public tension escalated rapidly following these events.
More and more footage of Afghan refugees crossing borders, and gathering in Istanbul wearing soldier uniforms appeared on the social media platforms, and refugees became the trending topic in the country. Turkish people started to state their inconvenience and unwillingness to accept Afghan refugees. This high tension was during the Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). Due to Eid, an immense number of Syrian refugees went to their country for the holiday, which received criticism from Turkish people including politicians. The leader of the National Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli, who currently is in an alliance with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), stated that ‘Syrian refugees visiting their country for the Eid should stay in their own country if they did not face any problems going there.
Additionally, the leader of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu provided that he does not welcome Afghan refugees, and his first action would be to deport Syrian refugees if he is elected. As one can only assume, these statements acted as fuel for the ongoing disturbance of the Turkish people. Some of the fact-checking people and institutions shared that most of the footage and photographs circling the social media platforms were misleading or old; however, this could not ease the public tension. Below footage was highly shared and criticized the social media platforms, claiming that the persons in the video removed the Turkish flag, and instead raised the Afghanistan flag.
Unfortunately, the public hate and anger towards refugees turned into violence and disorder in the capital of Turkey, Ankara. The Altındağ district of Ankara has a considerable number of Syrian refugees, most of whom have shops and businesses in this district. On August 11, most of the businesses and shops of Syrian refugees were looted, and cars were set on fire.
Even though the events that took place in Altındağ were a result of a street fight between a group of Turkish and Syrian men, resulting in the death of a Turkish citizen, the disorder after the death of an 18-years-old was highly influenced by general public tension. The police intervention to protect the Syrian refugees was protested by Altındağ residents.
One of the residents, Çağrı Karadoğan, witnessing the events from his balcony stated that some Turkish people blocked the main street of the neighborhood, and stopped vehicles to check IDs. He also stated that they stopped a motorcycle, and asked for the driver’s ID; even though he showed them his Turkish ID they did not believe him due to his physical appearance and blamed him for stealing a Turkish citizen’s national ID card. Once they were convinced that he was indeed a Turkish citizen, they stated that he was lucky, and they would have killed him if he was Syrian.
The residents negotiated with the District Governor by asking for an assurance to keep the shops and businesses of the Syrian refugees closed for at least a week. The District Governor promised to keep the businesses closed, but this also did not provide a permanent solution as the next day the residents found out that the 18-years-old Turkish boy lost his life in the hospital. The residents threw stones at the houses of Syrian refugees. It is also stated that some of the protestors were not actually residing in Altındağ but still, they participated in violence and disorder in order to steal some goods from the looted businesses and shops.
148 people were arrested following the events. It is stated that 64 of the arrested people had previous criminal records due to theft, producing drugs, and intentional injury. Additionally, police helped some Syrian refugees whose houses were stoned to flee from the neighborhood in the police vans. A Syrian refugee interviewing with BBC Turkish stated that he was living in Altındağ for 7 years but now he will flee from Ankara with his wife and three kids as they do not feel safe at their own house anymore.
The residents of the neighborhood remain calm right now, as most refugees left their houses. There are lots of postings on Syrian refugees’ pages on Facebook for selling businesses, shops, goods, and furniture. It is not known where the evacuated refugees are relocated. Now the neighborhood has constant police patrol to prevent any possible similar incidents.