A video of hundreds of Syrian men celebrating the new year in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, waving Syrian rebel flags and chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad sparked heated debate on social media in Turkey
A video showing Syrian refugees’ new year celebrations in Istanbul went viral in the early hours of 2019, with many lashing out at the Syrians and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Syrian refugees policy on social media.
Over 5,000 tweets were posted within hours with the hashtag #ÜlkemdeSuriyeliİstemiyorum [I don’t want Syrians in my country].
“In the video, which was shared by thousands in a couple of hours, there are Syrians who are jubilantly celebrating the new year by dancing in the Taksim square and waving Syrian flags. But, it is noticed that there are no Turks among those joining the celebrations,” Sözcü newspaper said.
One Syrian man was detained by the police on Monday night for allegedly sexually harassing two women, Sözcü said.
Initial reactions to the video footage generally criticised the Syrian refugees for celebrating new year in the safety of Turkey’s largest city, while the Turkish soldiers fought for them in their homeland.
“On the one side there are the glorious Turkish soldiers. On the other side, there are the dogs of Syria celebrating new year,” one Turkish Twitter user said in a widely shared post.
More than 70 percent of Turkish people believe Syrian refugees are taking their jobs and two-thirds think Syrians are responsible for increasing the crime rate, according to a poll conducted by Istanbul Bilgi University’s Centre for Migration Research in 2018.
“In the past we were talking about tourists being harassed during celebrations in Taksim, now we are excepted to digest the fact that Syrians wave their flags and harass us. Welcome 2019, this is Turkey,” Ata Benli, a Turkish Twitter user said.
“Pay attention, they did not open Syrian flags, the opened FSA flags. If you want to save your country from Assad, go and open that flag in Syria, not in Taksim. So that, while you are enjoying yourselves, our Mehmeds (Turkish soldiers) will not have to keep guard,” İsmail Saymaz, a reporter for the Hürriyet newspaper said on Twitter.
The FSA, founded by Syrian rebels at the early days of the conflict, has turned to Turkey as an ally after being split into different factions and losing support of the United States.
Turkey’s relations with the FSA have deepened over time, as FSA fighters joined Turkey’s military operations in Syria. Some 35,000 FSA members fought alongside Turkish troops in an offensive to capture the Kurdish-held northwestern Syrian district of Afrin.
Some Turks spoke out against the outrage and hashtag against Syrians.
”It’s easy to say I don’t want Syrians in my country just because they had fun in Taksim Square. If we are to question anything, it should be the support Turkey provides to armed forces under the name of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). For example, the fee for the salary, clothing, weapons and food provided to this group is coming out of the pockets of this country’s citiziens,” one Twitter user said.
Deputies of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) took the lead on Tuesday in expressing their outrage at Syrian men at Taksim square.
Özkan Yalım, a deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also criticised the Syrians’ celebrations. “On the one side there are our glorious Turkish soldiers during in Syria, on the other side there are Syrians celebrating new year in Istanbul. Isn’t enough is enough,” he said.
The leftist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Wednesday asked parliament to launch an inquiry into new year celebrations in Taksim, saying that by letting Syrians wave FSA flags, the Turkish government allowed activities in Turkey against the Syrian government.
Ünal Çeviköz, a CHP deputy who submitted the proposal for the inquiry, said the relations between Turkey and the FSA were not transparent and harmed the credibility of the Turkish military. Çeviköz also said the relationship risked the success of the Astana process, launched by Turkey, Russia, and Iran, to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.
Mehmet Kuzulugil from the Turkish Communist Party criticised those he said tried to analyse refugee issues without even knowing the difference between Syrian and FSA flags.
“What about saying to your government, ‘stop supporting jihadis stirring up Syria so that peace can come and refugees can return to their homeland’?” he asked.