Locals in Turkey’s Maraş protest planned camp for Syrians

Locals in Turkey’s Maraş protest planned camp for Syrians

Rifat Başaran - ANKARA
Locals in Turkey’s Maraş protest planned camp for Syrians Plans to build a container city for around 27,000 Syrian refugees near predominantly-Alevi populated villages in Turkey’s southern province of Kahramanmaraş has led to uneasiness among villagers.

“Before everything else, this place was originally allocated as a protected natural area but was confiscated unlawfully. Also, people here haven’t yet forgotten the Maraş massacre of 1978,” said Ali Öztunç, a party assembly member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), referring to the killing of over 100 Alevis in the town by right-wing ultra-nationalists.

“[Locals] are concerned because 27,000 Sunni Syrians will be settled in the camps and they feel excluded,” Öztunç said on April 4 during a visit to the villages.

“Communities are uneasy because no one knows who is coming, whether they are from ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] or al-Nusra. Because of what took place in the past, Maraş is one of the most sensitive provinces in Turkey. That’s why no tension should be allowed here,” he added.

Through 1978 and 1980, in the run up to the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup d’état, Alevis were subjected to mass killings not only in Kahramanmaraş, then called Maraş, but also in Sivas and Çorum by ultra-nationalist groups.

An appeal by villagers for “urgent stay of execution” in the container city plan has already been filed to an administrative court, with residents citing fears that “Syrian jihadists” would be settled nearby.

“There should be no misunderstanding. Our objection is not against refugees. We are just concerned about the designation of the camps and the fact that jihadist groups from ISIL and al-Nusra may come here and involve us in the Syrian civil war. Our Sunni brothers and sisters are also concerned about jihadists,” said Salman Akdeniz, the head of the Kahramanmaraş branch of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association (PSAKD). 

Haydar Altunpek, a lawyer for the villagers, also said local concerns focused on security. 

“Citizens’ basic concern is related to security. Elements that have fled war are being settled next to Alevi villages, which are actually shown as an excuse for war. People are scared that they will no longer have a living space here,” Altunpek said.

Tension rose amid demonstrations against the plans on April, as gendarmerie forces dismantled tents set up by residents and fired tear gas. One gendarmerie lieutenant was wounded in his head after protesters threw stones at the intervening forces. 

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Gaziantep deputy Mehmet Toğrul, former Istanbul HDP deputy Sebahat Tuncel and the CHP’s Öztunç were also present at the protest and condemned the gendarmerie’s crackdown. 
The gendarmerie forces detained six people who allegedly threw stones during the intervention.