Syrians celebrating new year at Istanbul’s Taksim square sparks outrage

Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey pouring into Istanbul’s Taksim square on Monday night to celebrate the new year created a wave of anti-Syrian outrage in the country, Sözcü newspaper reported.

Turks reacted when many young Syrian men opened flags and chanted slogans in square, the central point of new year celebrations 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. 

Turkey is home to a reported 3.8 million Syrian refugees, having implemented an open doors policy since the beginning of the conflict in the neighbouring country in 2011.

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.

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.

“Did our young people become martyred on their soil for Syrian youth to invade Taksim, to stage a show with their flags chanting ‘Syria’, and to harass our girls,” another one said on Twitter. 

''You don't want Syrians in your country, but do the Syrians want you in their country?'' another user asked, in an apparent reference to Turkey's military presence in the country.

“There are Syrians everywhere, on the streets at schools, offices,” one Turkish woman said. “Taksim has been invaded by them. They can mark this in history as ‘land invaded without fighting any war’,” she added. 

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.

Many Turks are angered by AKP policies which they claim provide Syrian refugees with preferential treatment in social services as well as financial assistance.

The debate over Turkey’s protection of Syrian refugees has taken on more urgency in the past year, with opposition lawmakers criticising the government’s spending on refugees during an economic downturn.

Some 55,000 Syrians have been granted Turkish citizenship in the past seven years, according to the Turkish government.