Border guards violently beat and insulted four Syrians who were trying to enter Turkey illegally on Friday, July 28 in the area of Hatay, in the country's southwest. In the video, which was filmed by one of the soldiers and has been circulating on social media since Sunday, one can see the young Syrian men being kicked and hit with batons as they try to protect themselves.
"Why are you coming to Turkey? Where are you going? To Istanbul? What is there in Turkey?" shouts the soldier who is filming the scene, while his colleagues kick and punch the Syrian men before hitting them with one of their truncheons.
The soldier filming accuses one of the Syrians of being a trafficker. "Why did you help refugees cross the border? Are you a trafficker?” he asks while he's beating the man on the ground. Then he goes back to his colleagues, to whom he gives an order: "Hit them!" One soldier starts kicking the man. The one filming and another soldier join in. One of the soldiers tells the man on the ground, "Don't cry!"
After hitting them with a truncheon, one of the soldiers asks his colleague, "Hey, will you send me the video on WhatsApp?" The third soldier slaps one of the Syrians and calls him "son of a whore".
During the video, the four Syrians seem to be gathering cigarette butts and putting them in a blue bucket, which could potentially be a punishment ordered by the soldiers. Then the soldiers command them to get up. One of them is holding his stomach and has to be carried by the three others.
"The personnel who carried out inacceptable acts have been detained and the necessary legal action has been taken against them", the Turkish armed forces declared in a statement on July 30, confirming that the video was filmed on July 28 at around 11am, between the villages of Seferli and Sivri in Hatay province. The video was then shared over WhatsApp, primarily via a contact of the man who filmed the attack, who lives in Germany.
The video was met with indignation by Turkish social media. "When you watch that without the sound turned up, you could think that they are Assad's soldiers who are torturing Syrians. It's a shock when you turn on the sound...", wrote one Turkish viewer who published the video on Twitter.
"To cross the border, you have to get help from traffickers"
Muhammad A. is a former humanitarian worker who lives in Gaziantep and now works as an independent journalist. He is Syrian and crossed the border illegally dozens of times between 2011 and 2013, when he was transporting medicine into Syria for an NGO.
Sometimes the checkpoint was closed, usually on the weekend, so I had to break the rules to deliver the medicine. I was arrested once by guards, in the summer of 2013. There was a small group of us and a soldier asked us, "Why are you coming into my country?" I replied that I wasn't a terrorist, that I was a student in Turkey. He slapped me and said, "Don't talk to us like that," probably because I was getting worked up.
To cross the border, you have to ask for help from traffickers. In 2013, I paid between 50 and 100 dollars [between 40 and 170 euros] for the crossing. Nowadays the price is more like between 1,000 and 1,500 dollars [between 850 and 1,250 euros].
"Soldiers have already shot at Syrians who try to cross the border"
The border control has been really strict for about a year and a half, since the border between Syria and Turkey was officially closed. It's a result of the agreement signed between Turkey and the European Union about migrants in 2016. Since then, not only is an illegal crossing the only way Syrians can get into Turkey, but it's become really dangerous: the border guards are very strict and as the area has been deemed a military zone, soldiers have the right to use their guns and have already fired at Syrians trying to get across.
In these cases, the Turkish authorities don't punish the soldiers [if there is no video evidence of the incident], because there is always a chance that the person shot was a terrorist, so that justifies them using their guns. And Syrians are doing something illegal in any case.
Under Turkish law, all Syrians that try to cross the border illegally are supposed to be arrested, taken to court, and then detained until they are able to be sent back to Syria. However usually these steps are ignored. Syrians are arrested and then immediately sent back in a bus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights believes that in 2016, 163 people, including 15 women and 31 children were killed by the Turkish army. The organisation's allegations have been vigorously denied by Yasin Aktay, the vice president of the ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party).
In March and April 2016, Human Rights Watch estimated that Turkish soldiers killed at least five people, including one child, in the space of two months.