Between hospitality and assimilation
A few years ago in a conversation I was having in New York, a Turkish student said something I found resentful. “Istanbul has become full of Arabs; I no longer want to live there.”
I asked which of the Arabs he was talking about. “Are you talking about those desperate ones who fled war or the tourists who come to us and spend their money?”
“If you want, let us only permit the blond tourists,” I added jokingly.
Yet, there is an interesting picture that is taking shape at the point we have currently arrived at.
Every single day, the number of immigrants coming from Syria has multiplied.
In view of the current state of affairs in our relations with Europe—nearly all of the tourists in our country are from the Middle East.
Therefore, one in three people in the street speak Arabic. The signboards in the shops have turned into Arabic. Arabic music comes from the coffee shops.
In the meantime, three and a half million (maybe more) Syrians have been added to our population. In fact, the number of Arab tourists is nothing next to that.
It is good to be hospitable. They are welcome, etc. All this is fine but what is the next stage? Since we do not have an integration policy or program, is it inevitable that the culture, way of living, culinary habits, commercial goods and even the designs will be shaped in line with Middle Eastern preferences? Do we want that?
In some provinces the Arab population has surpassed the Turkish population; the demography has changed. The locals there are complaining about a lot of things. Some say, “We are becoming assimilated; the place has become an Arab province; we have become a minority.”
In big cities, some services are not provided properly. “Syrians have flooded the beaches and the recreation areas,” some complain. These complaints stem not only from the crowds and the insufficiency of services but also from cultural differences.”
Are we ready to deal with these complaints that grow with each day; to the problems and to the potential of growing reciprocal hostile feelings between the two? Do we have a plan?