Words by Teymour Ashkan
In the short time I’ve lived in Istanbul, I’ve witnessed with perplexity a culture founded on hospitality and peaceful coexistence being stressed and challenged. Over 2 million refugees fleeing war-torn countries has exposed sizeable fissures in Turkish society. For example, the lack of a volunteer culture. As much as Turkey desires to e European or Western, it is missing a key ingredient that many Western (Arab and Sub-Saharan African societies as well) hold. In the dozens of NGOs working with refugees I have come in contact with, there is a strikingly low amount of Turkish volunteers. Many of the volunteers are foreigners from Arab countries and even Europeans who don’t speak the language but are taking their time from their university studies or jobs to help, even just a little bit.
There are Turks who care and are willing to help Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and others who are finding a safe haven in Turkey, but the correlation of refugees entering Turkey and recent violent spats generated an atmosphere of distrust and negligence. The most is seeing this extrapolated within Turkish youth. Encouraging volunteerism at an early age can alter the current status quo and dissuade some Turkish youth from lurching towards internalised and subtle racist epithets towards Syrians and others fleeing war.
“I’m so tired of hearing about refugees. What about us? We are suffering too.”
“Refugees are just the flavour of the month. It’s a sugar rush. People will get over it.”
“It isn’t our fault that their societies are backwards. Why are they trying to drag down Turkey too?”
Turkish people need to understand that helping refugees does not mean that we don’t care about the disadvantaged locals. he two are not mutually exclusive. Refugees just require immediate, short term response readiness.
My goal living here is to try to encourage Turks to not view Syrians and others who escaped war torn countries as just refugees. Refugees implies that one is in the process of seeking to be whole again. Refugee as a state of being is in limbo. You are neither here nor there. You are not a fully realised human being and you are unable to realise your potential and achieve dignity because of the chance of whee you were born. These people are not just guests or burdens on your country and society. For most of history, Turks, Arabs, and Kurds were woven from the same cloth. Arab and Kurdish contribution to Turkish society and culture is apparent everywhere you go. Once these communities start viewing eac other not as adversaries or burdens but as brothers and sisters, only then can Turks rid themselves of these Sykes-ian chains and reclaim their culture, history, and future.
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