The Directorate of Immigration of the Turkish Ministry of Interior announced, on Wednesday night – Thursday, that it had arrested seven people, on charges of spreading “provocative banana posts” on social media, and that it had started procedures for deporting them outside the country, while continuing to follow up on all those involved in the case.
The Directorate of Immigration did not reveal the names of the seven people or their nationalities, while the newspaper, “Yeni Şafak”, which is close to the government, said that the detainees are of Syrian nationality, and confirmed that “the authorities are continuing their efforts to uncover the issue of the provocative posts in all its dimensions,” provided that measures are taken. The necessary judicial and administrative procedures with precision, and then announced to the public.
The decision of arrest and deportation sparked widespread controversy among the Syrian refugee community, and the Turks as well, and while some of them supported these measures, others criticized what they described as the “unfair procedure”, especially since the “provocative banana posts” did not come from a vacuum, but rather as a reaction to “Racist and hateful” attitudes on the part of Turkish citizens, according to them.
What is the “banana story”?
A week ago, a Turk posted a video on his YouTube channel, in which he reviewed a controversial discussion between Turkish citizens (a woman and an elderly person) and a Syrian girl on a street in the country.
In the course of the discussion, the Turkish elderly man said, addressing the Syrian girl: “I cannot eat bananas, and you Syrians buy them with kilograms from the bazaar (the popular market).” He also talked about economic problems he suffers from, such as not being able to pay the rent of his house, blaming the Syrians for this reason .
The Turkish woman added that she is also facing living difficulties, considering that the reality of the Syrian refugees is different, as they “receive support from the Turkish government,” noting: “I cannot walk, I underwent 5 operations, and my daughter is an English language teacher and has not been appointed for 5 years. Where this country?”
When the Syrian young woman replied by saying: “If it wasn’t for the war, we wouldn’t have come to Turkey,” the Turkish lady continued in an offensive tone: “Go and never talk. Go to Syria. Syrians never go out from the hairdresser, but I haven’t gone to the hairdresser for a while.”
“Campaign turns into a provocation”
For a long time, video opinion polls targeting Turkish citizens have been circulating on social media, and those responsible have been trying to obtain answers regarding the reality of Syrian asylum in the country, and its impact on the living and economic situation.
These polls are rarely popular among Syrians and Turks as well, but the last video of “Banana Talk” spread widely, after it was republished by Syrian media, which led to a “cynic campaign” led by Syrian youths through the communication sites, especially the website Tik Tok.
In the past four days, these young men published hundreds of videos and photos, most of which were intended to ridicule the conversation of the Turkish man and woman.
The methods of sarcasm varied among Tik Tok users, and some of them tried to mock issues that are considered within the context of “the sanctities of the Turkish people”, such as the country’s flag, which angered Turkish citizens and prompted opposition political figures to file lawsuits for the implementation of accountability.
On Wednesday, the leader of the “Victory Party”, Umit Ozdag, filed a criminal complaint with the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, against a young Syrian man who, through his account on “Tik Tok”, replaced the symbol of the crescent in the Turkish flag with a “banana”.
On the other hand, the International Refugee Rights Association announced that it had filed a criminal complaint against people believed to be Syrians over the “provocative” posts they shared on social media.
It was noteworthy that the arrest of the Directorate of Immigration of the Ministry of Interior of the seven people, came after these two complaints, and also after the anger witnessed among Turkish citizens through social networking sites, through a hashtag that topped the Turkish trend list on “Twitter”, bearing the name “Sureli”.
‘The case escalates’
Syrians have conflicting opinions about the developments in the past few days, which ended with the arrest of the seven people.
While some of them supported the action taken by the Turkish authorities, others criticized it, and considered that accountability should include those who raise “hate speech and racism”, in reference to the man and woman who attacked the Syrian girl in the video, as well as the YouTuber who published the controversial discussion on his channel.
The Turkish authorities have not previously announced taking any action against those who broadcast racism and hate speech in Turkey against Syrian refugees, especially opposition politicians, who provide through their personal accounts almost daily “inciting and racist” information, led by Umit Ozdag, who filed a criminal complaint on Wednesday.
The Syrian lawyer, Ghazwan Kronfol, says that “the banana trend was closer to sarcasm than the conditions that the Syrians have reached in the world, and in Turkey in particular, as they are the source of the economic and social problems facing the country.”
“The pressure, racist behavior and incitement against the Syrians in the recent period have prompted them to vent their anger and frustration by ridicule of what they have reached,” Qronfol told Al-Hurra.
However, the Syrian lawyer believes that “some people – perhaps teenagers and ignorant people – acted recklessly, as they did not appreciate the consequences of things as they should.”
Kronfol continues that those who escalated their discourse in the past days: “They took national or historical symbols that have value in the Turkish social conscience, such as the Turkish flag and the Turkish currency. There was a kind of mockery of these symbols.”
He points out that “this led to a lawsuit being launched against them, and then the arrest of seven people in preparation for their deportation outside the country.”
Who is responsible?
Syrian refugee rights activist, Taha Al-Ghazi, says that “using social media to respond to some racists may be an effective pattern in some aspects, but we noticed that the discourse has been derailed.”
In an interview with Al-Hurra, Al-Ghazi added: “In my assessment, people who have deliberately abused and disseminated the sanctities of the Turkish street must be punished. Punishment must be individual, and the problem we fear is punishing people who have nothing to do with this issue.”
He explains that “the young people who posted some clips lack the concept of community awareness.”
According to the human rights activist’s point of view, the party that bears responsibility in this regard is the “Syrian organizations”, and he wondered, “After ten years of refugee status, where are the organizations that were established under names that care about youth groups? Why is the Syrian generation of youth today lacking societal awareness?” Where are the projects targeting them?
Al-Ghazi criticized the nature of the lawsuit filed against the Syrians, saying: “As long as the Turkish judiciary has applied Article 216 of the Turkish General Penal Code against those who offended the videos. We hope that the same thing will be applied to the Turks who have mocked them during the past months, especially the figures in the Good Party and the Republican People’s Party. “.
And he continues: “We are in favor of applying the punishment to any Syrian or non-Syrian person who offends the sanctities of the Turkish people, but we demand that the punishment be applied to Turks who broadcast incitement and racism as well.”
The number of Syrians residing in Turkey, whether “refugees” or “tourists”, exceeds four million people, and the largest number of them is concentrated in the state of Istanbul, followed by the border state of Şanlıurfa, and the states of Gaziantep and Hatay.
Over the past few months, hostility against Syrian refugees in Turkey has risen, with a number of politicians and opposition party leaders campaigning for stricter restrictions on them.
This contributed to the outbreak of clashes, the most prominent of which were months ago in the capital, Ankara, where Syrian shops and shops in the “Altin Dag” neighborhood were broken and destroyed, after the killing of a Turkish youth at the hands of another Syrian, during a quarrel.
At that time, media close to the government reported that Turkish police forces had arrested 76 people on charges of rioting in the Altindag district of Ankara, and that 38 of them had “different records.”
The Turkish political researcher, Muhannad Hafizoglu, believes that what happened in the past days is “because of Generation Z, which was allowed to open up on social media without restrictions.”
Hafiz Oglu said in an interview with Al-Hurra: “The lack of responsibility and not calculating the consequences of any action (that would fuel sedition) makes it a valuable opportunity for those who want to fish in troubled waters.”
The Turkish researcher adds: “Some (Syrian) TV channels also lack the consequences of publishing clips on their screens. There are refugees who hate Turkey and have the opportunity to shed their poison (in a sarcastic way), and some of them may be considered intellectuals.”
In his opinion: “The two peoples (Turkish and Syrian) have a lot that brings them closer to each other. These positions should not be published because they only bring general harm.”
The future shape of the Syrian refugee file in Turkey has not yet been determined, while political figures continue to fabricate anti-refugee narratives, as well as rumors that are staged on social media.
Among the most prominent of these figures are Eli Aksoy and İmet Ozdag, who was recently dismissed from the “Good Party”, due to the escalation of his racist and inflammatory rhetoric.
While the government says it seeks to return Syrian refugees to their country voluntarily, opposition parties insist on keeping the file of these refugees at the forefront of any internal political debate.