Arab Commentators, Including Pro-Erdoğan Figures, Launch Boycott Of Turkish Products And Tourism Over Deportation Of Syrian Refugees And Growing Anti-Arab Racism
Following recent reports detailing police arrests, mistreatment, and deportations of Syrian refugees from Turkey, prominent Arab commentators, including those who have been supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have condemned the Turkish government’s actions. They caution Erdoğan, saying that his standing in the Arab and Muslim world, which he has cultivated over the past two decades, may be at risk. In response to the deportation campaign and to what they perceive as “growing racism against Arabs in Turkey,” some commentators have initiated a media campaign urging Arabs to boycott Turkish products and tourism in the country.
This report addresses the ongoing discussion surrounding the deportation campaign, explores proposed responses, and examines the underlying factors contributing to the escalating anti-Syrian refugee sentiment in Turkey.
Reporting on the deportation of dozens of Syrian refugees, Ahmed Al-Rihawi, a TV host on Orient TV, published a tweet on July 16, 2023, in which he wrote that “The Turkish Directorate of Immigration has deported around 170 Syrian refugees from Turkey to areas in northern Syria through the Tal Abyad-Akçakale border crossing. The deportation process of the Syrian refugees, including those holding temporary protection cards, took place in several batches over the past Friday and Saturday.”
In a Friday sermon delivered on July 21, 2023, Syrian cleric Ahmad Al-Alwan expressed his disappointment in Erdoğan and warned that the oppression of the Syrian people will lead to the downfall of Turkey, regardless of the Islamic slogans Erdoğan may raise or the Islamic values he claims to defend.
In the sermon, Al-Alwan said: “If there is no implementation of these values, destruction would be inevitable, and we can learn a lesson from the recent earthquake that has struck Turkey and the liberated areas, but we will never learn.” He then issued a stern warning to the “racists and oppressors” in Turkey, the liberated areas, Jordan, Lebanon, or anywhere Syrians are being oppressed, cautioning that they may face divine punishment in the form of the earth sinking under their feet, dismemberment, stones raining from the sky, or a severe and painful torment.
On July 19, 2023, Abd Al-Aziz Duwaihi Bin Rumaih, a Kuwaiti businessman and a supporter of Erdoğan in the recent elections, warned that he would sponsor a campaign to boycott Turkey if the Syrians were oppressed. In a post published on July 23, 2023, he stated that the reasons behind his campaign were “the persecution of our Syrian brothers by new Nazis and racists in Turkey, the inhumane siege of cancer patients, including children and women, at the borders, the arbitrary arrest and deportation of Syrians in Turkey, and the prevailing racism and hatred against Arabs in general.”
To promote his campaign, reportedly set to be launched on July 27, 2023, Bin Rumaih, who has over 20,000 followers, called on major promotion accounts to contact him privately. He stated that he will sponsor the campaign and encouraged Twitter users to retweet his announcement to reach as many Arabs as possible. Utilizing the hashtags “#BoycottingTurkishProducts’ and “#ArabicCampaignToBoycottTurkey,” the campaign has garnered a considerable amount of support among Arab Twitter users.
For example, on July 20, 2023, Moroccan journalist Abd Al-Samad bin Abbad expressed his support for the campaign, stating: “In light of the appalling images and scenes of the suffering of refugees and migrants, and the marginalization of the Arabic language in Turkey, I believe that #Boycott_Turkish_Products and boycotting tourism in Turkey would be a good starting point to restore the dignity of the victims of Turkish racism and compel the government to take responsibility for its ‘guests.”
Syrian blogger and Twitter user Sohail Almoustafa, with over 18,000 followers, also used the hashtag “#Boycott_Turkish_Products” to express his support for the campaign in a tweet posted on July 24, 2023. He wrote: “Just as we have taken firm and decisive stances in previous issues where our religion, the Quran, and the Palestinian cause were offended, today we must take the same stance toward Turkey and those who defend it, and that is boycotting, which is the weakest form of faith, and there is no excuse for those who do not boycott.”
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The growing momentum of the campaign on Twitter seemed to have pushed some Arabic-speaking Turkish citizens to comment about the campaign and offer their perspective on the growing anti-Syrian refugee sentiment in Turkey. Among the most active voices against the campaign is Muhammed Erdoğan, a pro-Erdogan political activist. Erdoğan strongly refutes the accusation of racism directed at the Turkish people and condemns Arabs for not hosting Syrians in their countries. He points out that the boycott campaign of Turkish products and tourism may harm Syrians residing in Turkey who depend on these sectors for their livelihoods. In a post on July 24, 2023, Erdoğan emphasizes that the deportation campaign is not exclusively targeted at Syrians but also includes other nationalities illegally residing in Turkey.
Addressing Syrians in particular and Arabs in general, Erdoğan acknowledges the existence of racists in Turkey, but he argues that they are not the majority. Instead, he claims that these racists express their bigotry toward their fellow countrymen who do not share their ideology.
Addressing whether the Turks are racist against Arabs, Dr. Mehmet Canbekli, an Arabic-speaking Turkish journalist and political activist, posted a series of tweets on July 22, 2023, in which he explained the causes of the growing anti-Syrian refugee sentiment among Turkish people.
Canbekli’s tweets, published under the title “Are the Turks really racist against Arabs? And what is the reason behind the recent surge in hostility towards refugees in Turkey?” have received over 2.4 million views. Canbekli starts by establishing that it would be a lie to say that all Turks are racists, and it would also be a lie to deny the existence of racism in Turkey. According to Canbekli: “The campaign against refugees started on social media platforms around 2016 after the death of the young man, Mohammed Biqdar, at the hands of a group of refugees who had kicked a dog. At that time, coordinated campaigns started by some nationalists and leftists, rejecting refugees. In 2018, during the presidential elections, these campaigns intensified, coinciding with Turkey’s strained relations with the Arab world due to the Gulf crisis. The Arab-directed media began broadcasting inciting attacks with the aim of toppling Erdoğan’s government. At the same time, some refugees started sharing videos from inside Turkey that fueled unrest, including videos of harassment, assaults, and unlawful behavior.”
In addition to the factors previously mentioned, Canbekli pointed out that the opposition media outlets, including OdaTV, Aydınlık Newspaper, and Solcu Gazete, played a significant role in fueling hatred against Syrian refugees. They conducted street interviews that were specifically framed to amplify this sentiment. Moreover, the media attributed the economic crisis in Turkey to the presence of refugees, further exacerbating the negative attitudes toward them.
Canbekli also said that “Erdoğan’s government bears part of the responsibility for the increase in hatred toward refugees.” He mentioned that the government has unsuccessfully sought “to integrate refugees into Turkish society through religious discourse, using terms like ‘muhajireen’ and ‘ansar [referring to early Islamic migrants and their supporters]’, and emphasizing that most refugees are originally from Aleppo, which was historically part of the Ottoman Empire.”
Summarizing the factors that led to the government’s failure to curb the anti-Syrian refugee sentiment, Canbekli wrote: “For example, the government responded to the fact that Europe provided a few billion dollars to help refugees by stating that Turkey spent 40 billion dollars on refugees. This led the Turks to believe that their government was spending on refugees from their own taxes. The EU-Turkey migration deal on accepting refugees made Turkey feel like a storage facility for refugees.”
“The lack of laws to criminalize racism, fake news, and incitement campaigns, along with not setting a specific date for the refugees’ return or finding a solution, and the lack of transparency in the numbers of granted citizenship to refugees, even the opposition exploited this and incited against refugees, claiming that the government granted citizenship to around one million refugees to vote for them and win elections. The lack of transparency in the number of refugees present in Turkey allowed the opposition to manipulate these numbers to claim there were ten million refugees.”
Finally, Canbekli criticized the Syrians, saying: “Despite more than 10 years of Syrians’ presence in Turkey, they have not been able to establish a Syrian media directed toward Turks and the Turks continue to view Syrians through the lens of Turkish-directed media.”
While the pro-Erdoğan Arab Islamists do not seem to support the boycott campaign, they have expressed sympathy for the Syrian refugees. They voiced their frustration and disappointment with Erdoğan and warned that he may lose all the support he has gained in the last 20 years due to this campaign.
On July 20, 2023, Saudi Islamist writer and Erdoğan supporter, Ahmad bin Rashid Bin Saeed, published a video on his Twitter account. In the video, he recited a poem condemning the Turkish government for deporting Syrian refugees and questioning whose interests the campaign would serve.
On July 21, 2023, Al-Jazeera TV host Ahmad Mansour, a radical Islamist, posted a tweet warning president Erdoğan that if he does not “urgently intervene to stop the organized and escalating racist campaigns against Arabs in Turkey in general and Syrians in particular, the racists in Turkey and the aggressive behavior of the police towards Syrians and Arab tourists, even at airports, will destroy what Erdoğan and his party have built in terms of respect and appreciation for Arabs over the past 20 years.”
A Similar condemnation was shared by the pro-Erdoğan Qatar-based Mauritanian professor Muhammad Al-Mokhtar Al-Shinqiti who wrote on July 20, 2023: “The growing racism in Turkey against Syrians and Afghans, and the suppression of the Arabic language compared to other languages in some Turkish municipalities, is a repulsive phenomenon. It undermines what President Erdoğan and his party have built for Turkey’s position in the hearts of Arabs and Muslims worldwide. Is there any decisive action against the racists before it is too late?”
Within the discussion regarding the deportation campaign, some have chosen to call on those advocating for the plight of the refugees to be reasonable and fair in their condemnation and not give the racists more reasons to continue harassing the refugees. Among them is the Turkey-based Palestinian writer and researcher Said Elhaj who wrote on July 23, 2023: “Can you not take a stance on recent measures in Turkey that support the rights of Syrians/Arabs/foreigners without exaggerating or downplaying, without engaging in campaigns against Turkey, without holding the oppressed responsible for what is happening, and without giving racists an excuse? Yes, you can, but that requires vision, determination, and readiness to bear possible consequences. The easiest thing to do in such crises is to take extreme positions, either denying the event, exaggerating its description, blaming the victim, or putting more burden on those who are already taking responsibility, favoring those engaged in defamation campaigns or the rhetoric of opportunism. Fairness is valuable, and adopting balanced and correct stances is even more valuable.”
 Twitter.com/AhmedAlrihawi/status/1680634476580175873, July 16, 2023.
 Youtube.com/watch?v=5iZrhqtr-Zc, July 21, 2023.
 Twitter.com/Doo711/status/1683215948692570113, July 23, 2023.
 Twitter.com/aabdpres/status/1681935063456382976, July 20, 2023.
 Twitter.com/S_Moustafa74/status/1683358573932294145, July 24, 2023.
 Twitter.com/Mehmetcanbekli1/status/1682925757373333504, July 22, 2023.
 Twitter.com/LoveLiberty_2/status/1682149795102703616, July 20, 2023.
 Twitter.com/amansouraja/status/1682247147796721664, July 21, 2023.
 Twitter.com/mshinqiti/status/1681918705511415809, July 20, 2023.
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