Racism, Turks, and Syrians

Umit Ozdag Represents Creeping Racism Towards Syrians in Turkey

The economic crisis in Turkey is paving way for the emergence of anti-immigrant politicians in the mold of Geert Wilders. Syrians have become victims of hate speech.

Abdullah Ayasun
8 min readJan 4, 2022

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A picture from Istanbul. (AP)

Flanked by a phone-holding assistant to capture his every move, a Turkish politician barged into a jewelry store in the western province of Izmir on Wednesday last week, interrogating the owner (a Syrian) on the spot at camera-point. After asking the owner for his identification and store license, Umit Ozdag, the chairman of the ultra-nationalist Victory Party, rattled off one question after another as if an official inspector. The fact, he was not.

While the owner dutifully complied with Ozdag’s demands, it never dispelled the politician’s vilification and bossing manner.

In a video that went viral on social media, Ozdag performed his “patriotic duty” by warning the Turkish nation against a brewing menace supposedly long in the making.

“He came to Turkey 7 years ago. His Turkish is limited. He obtained citizenship. More, a gun license. He opened a jewelry store in Izmir with the jewelry identity card he got from Sanliurfa. There are 900 thousand more of them. Turkey, aren’t you aware of the danger?” he wrote on Twitter.

This warning shot has been aimed to spur a sleepy nation to reckon with a menacing threat regarding a “Syrian takeover of Turkey.” Whatever Ozdag’s nationalist gospel contends about the perceived danger posed by the mostly hungry Syrians, his inflated portrayal and overblown numbers fall apart in the face of rigorous fact-checking.

Gun ownership, one commentator reasoned, is universal among people in the business of jewelry for security reasons. There is nothing wrong with that; there is nothing to be alarmed about a Syrian with a gun permit sitting in a jewelry store. The…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun