The banana has become the surprising symbol of the growing tensions between the Turks and the nearly 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Viral TikTok videos in which young Syrians film themselves eating yellow fruits sparked anger from Turkish police, and Ankara ordered the expulsion of 11 Syrians who posted banana videos.
It all started with a video shot in Istanbul showing a heated discussion about the role of refugees in Turkey’s economic crisis. In the clip, a Turk attacks a Syrian student, whom he accuses of having bought “kilos of bananas” when he cannot afford “to eat just one”. Another woman steps in and accuses Syrians of living comfortably in Turkey rather than returning to their country to fight (Syria has been in the throes of civil war for over a decade). The student tries to explain that she has nowhere to go in Syria, but her words fall on deaf ears.
Making fun of xenophobia with banana videos
Inspired by the video, young Syrians living in Turkey turned to TikTok. Using derision to expose the daily xenophobia experienced by Syrians in the country, they made videos of themselves eating bananas using the sound clip from the original video.
Bazı Suriyeli kullanıcılar ise Türk Lirası’nın dolar karşısındaki değer kaybının ardından “Muz” görseli bulunan banknotlar paylaşmaya başladı. pic.twitter.com/QMKyjwHH98
– Aykırı (@aykiricomtr) October 25, 2021 Other Syrian users shared images of the Turkish flag with the crescent replaced by a banana. Users also shed light on the country’s economic situation, posting videos of themselves cutting a banana into pieces to share with their families or images of US banknotes photoshopped to include bananas (a reference to the steep depreciation of the Turkish lira against the dollar, especially in the last month).
Authorities have responded forcefully to the banana “campaign”, cracking down on Syrian users who participated in it. After being arrested last Thursday by Turkish police who accused them of insulting Turks and inciting hatred, 11 Syrians who posted banana videos are now threatened with deportation. Other refugees, still under investigation, could follow.
Syrian journalist Majed Shamaa, who posted a satirical video report on the banana challenge, was also arrested last Sunday.
Turkish authorities arrested Orient Channel reporter Majed Shamaa for an amusing video in which he asked Syrians in Istanbul what they thought of the Turkish outrage over the banana videos. pic.twitter.com/ih3gQUjuRl
– Lindsey Snell (@LindseySnell) October 31, 2021 He is currently detained in Gaziantep and faces deportation, with Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) campaigning for his release.
URGENT – Syrian journalist Majed Shama (@OrientNews), currently in Gaziantep, faces deportation to #Syria, where he is threatened by the government. The Turkish authorities accuse him of having treated with derision a controversy on social networks amid tensions between Turks and Syrians. pic.twitter.com/GchfGbeBJr
– RSF (@RSF_inter) November 3, 2021 As the country grapples with economic and financial difficulties, these banana videos have also struck a chord with Turks, especially those who accuse Syrian and Afghan refugees of taking their use. “The real problem is the danger [these refugees] poses for the future of Turkey, ”said a Turkish columnist.
Syrians in Turkey became Erdogan’s burden
Ten years ago, Turkey opened its doors to Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country and the repression of President Bashar al-Assad. However, the authorities did not expect the refugees to stay that long. Since then, Turkey’s economic situation has deteriorated further, with the income gap between Syrians and Turks widening. This situation explains Turkey’s reluctance to accept new refugees, for example from Afghanistan.
Politically, the Syrians in Turkey have become a burden on Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). On the other hand, they have become a possible advantage for the opposition of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). In a country where the share of foreign births remains very low compared to the OECD average, the party embodies Turkish resentment towards foreigners.
The governor of Bolu, located in the north-west of the country, has imposed a curfew on migrants in his town to encourage them to “respect the culture and traditions of Turkish society”. A few months earlier, the mayor of Bolu, also a member of the party CHP, sparked controversy with a proposal to increase water prices for foreigners. Meanwhile, party chairman Kemal Kiliçdaroglu has repeatedly stated that he wants to send “his Syrian brothers” home.
The war in Syria was initially an electoral boost for the AKP. Ankara’s military operations against the Syrian Kurds bolstered Erdogan’s popularity, while his electoral base viewed the president’s openness to Syrian refugees as embodying a new humane and generous Turkish leadership in the Muslim world.
However, support for Erdogan has eroded with the economic crisis. Many Turks can no longer bear the gags on the state of their country, and for Syrians threatened with deportation from Turkey, bananas are no longer a joke.
This article has been translated from the original into French.
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