'A nightmarish night': Syrian neighbourhood in Ankara attacked after deadly fight

Left: a group of Turkish men loot and destroy goods stolen from shops run by Syrians in the Altındag neighbourhood in Ankara on the night of August 11. Right: a Syrian family barricade themselves at home, afraid of reprisals.
Left: a group of Turkish men loot and destroy goods stolen from shops run by Syrians in the Altındag neighbourhood in Ankara on the night of August 11. Right: a Syrian family barricade themselves at home, afraid of reprisals. © Twitter / @NesimiOeztas / @artigercek / bahar kingur

On the evening of August 11, about a hundred Turkish men attacked homes and shops belonging to Syrians in the east of the capital, Ankara, which is home to a large Syrian refugee community. The mob gathered to seek revenge after a Turkish teenager died during a fight between Syrians and Turks that broke out in a city park. Our Observers say that the Turkish opposition has created a hostile environment towards the Syrian community. 

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Videos widely shared on Twitter show chaos the night of August 11 in Altındag, a neighbourhood in the east of the Turkish capital, Ankara. About a hundred young Turkish men drove into the neighbourhoods of Altındag and Huseyingazi, which are often called Little Aleppo, as they are home to around 10,000 Syrians. The mob yelled out xenophobic insults, beat the Syrians they came across on the streets and looted several shops belonging to Syrians. 

At least six Syrians were injured according to witnesses. On August 12, the next day, police arrested a total of 66 people suspected of participating in the riots. Of those arrested, 38 were known to the police for assault and battery and drug trafficking.

This video filmed by a local shows the mob destroying the front of a shop, while simultaneously shouting out phrases with religious connotations.
A mob tries to destroy the front of a shop that they believe is owned by Syrians in the Hüseyingazi neighborhood in eastern Ankara on the night of August 11. “Look, even the police aren’t intervening,” you can hear one person saying.

Earlier that evening, around 9:30pm, a fight had broken out between Turkish and Syrian teenagers from Huseyingazi. During the fight, two Turkish teenagers, aged 16 and 18, were stabbed. The 18-year-old died that night in hospital. Two suspects of Syrian origin were arrested, according to local media reports. 

Turkish social media users shared images of the 18-year-old who died.

Though riot police were deployed, they were unable to calm the situation. Syrian residents of the neighbourhood either barricaded themselves in their homes or fled, terrified of the mob. 

The president of the Turkish Red Cross, Kerem Kinik, said on Twitter that a Syrian child was hospitalised after being hit in the head with a rock that one of the rioters threw at a family's home.

This video by independent Turkish media outlet Artı Gerçek shows a Syrian family barricading themselves in their home. “There is a pregnant woman here. What are we going to do?” one of the men says to the journalist through the window.

'The neighbourhood was on high alert all night'

Yusuf Molla, a Syrian activist living in Altındag, posted about the events of the night of August 11 on his Facebook page. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers what he saw.

A lot of people rushed to park their cars out of reach of the rioters. There were just a few cars left in the neighbourhood. Because we barricaded the neighbourhood, we thought that would be enough to protect us. But what happened was worse than we could have ever imagined  homes ransacked, shops looted, mobs marching through the streets, screaming out insults. 

They flipped over cars and ripped out windows. I was with my neighbour when rioters smashed his new car. That happened around 5am, before the police came. 

This video, filmed by someone living in the Hüseyingazi neighborhood, shows the mob smashing up and flipping over a car belonging to a Syrian refugee. The assaillants looked for cars with “MA” (which stands for visitor) on their licence plate.

My mother lives in this neighbourhood and my brothers and I stayed with her until dawn. The community was on high alert all night. It was a nightmarish night for Syrians here. They were moving in groups: fifteen of them went out of one alley, ten of them out of another.

The reaction [of the Turks] was so disproportionate. A lot of the looting and ransacking was caught on surveillance cameras and those images are now circulating online, which will help our case with the police. We won’t be quiet when it comes to our rights.

Other videos show how the attack spread to neighbouring Önder, according to journalist Alican Uludag.

'Syrians are the primary victims of hate speech in Turkey'

This violence is a direct result of the xenophobic climate that has been growing for the past few years, says lawyer and Syrian activist Ghazwan Kronfol, who works for the NGO Free Syrian Lawyers

This kind of xenophobic attack is the direct result of the climate created by a ongoing campaign seeking to denigrate Syrians that’s been run by the Turkish opposition, especially the People’s Republican Party (CHP), over the past two years. Even though there are a number of refugee communities living in Turkey, the campaign essentially targets Syrians, because they represent the largest group [Editor’s note: There are more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, out of five million Syrian refugees spread around the world]. This campaign, which is not at all subtle, is aimed at riling up opposition supporters so they will call for early legislative elections, which are supposed to take place in 2023.

This shows merchandise from Syrian-run shops in the Hüseyingazi neighborhood that the mob looted then burned in the streets.

It makes sense that there would be widespread hatred towards Syrians if a Syrian commits a crime or if Turkish people don’t understand the legal rights of refugees. The Turkish government should communicate better about the aide that Syrians get. For example, only a tiny proportion of Syrians live in refugee camps [Editor's note: 96% of Syrians who have “temporary protective” status from the Turkish authorities live in urban areas]. Most of them run businesses and have paid taxes for years. Turkey also got 6 billion euros from Europe to support refugees, especially Syrians, but many Turks think that it is Turkish government money that is supporting them. 

The mob whistles and shouts out “Syrian bastards, death to Syrians” in front of burning merchandise stolen from Syrian shops.

Even if the government provides compensation to the victims in Altındag, Syrians remain in danger. How can they create harmony in a host country that is already hostile to them? If legal action isn’t taken against the assailants, these waves of violence will keep happening.

The xenophobic attack that took place in Altindag is similar to a wave of violence against Syrian refugees that broke out in Istanbul in June 2019. Syrian-run shops were destroyed and people were attacked. 

>> Read on The Observers: Wave of violence breaks out against Syrians in Turkey