Turks, Syrians from southeastern town form special bond
Gülden Aydın – KİLİS
Hürriyet PhotoA sense of brotherhood resembling the early Muslims has developed between Syrians living in the southeastern province of Kilis and local Turkish residents as the number of Syrians has come to exceed the population of Turks in the town.
“Muhajir means the ones who are ‘persecuted and forced to flee’ while ansar means the ones who host. We are hosting our Syrian brothers just like the people of Medina hosted the Prophet Muhammad and others from Mecca who fled along with him,” said Serdar Yılmaz, a 45-year-old store owner in Kilis, in reference to verses from the Qur’an.
Kilis, 60 kilometers from the former Syrian commercial hub of Aleppo, is Turkey’s second smallest province. The town’s local population is 106,293, but the number of Syrian residents has risen to 116,714, making it the city with the largest number of Syrian residents in Turkey.
Because of the help local residents have provided for the coming Syrians, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has nominated them for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Our city was designed for a population of 115,000, the forecast total by 2023. Its infrastructure was prepared accordingly and its superstructure was to be completed accordingly. With the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011, our population doubled,” Kilis Mayor Hasan Kara said, highlighting the crowds in the town’s shops, parks, restaurants and bazaars.
In contrast to other Turkish cities of Adana and Şanlıurfa, there have been no reported clashes between the local residents of Kilis and Syrians. “People of Aleppo are not strangers to us. There have been intermarriages and a long-time trade relationship between them and us. We also have a ‘muhajir-ansar’ approach toward them,” said Murat Dabanıuzun, a jewelry store owner from Kilis.
Kilis Gov. Süleyman Tapsız also referred to the “muhajir-ansar” relationship when criticizing some local merchants for exploiting the arrival of Syrians and increasing their prices. “When our Prophet and the muhajirs arrived in Mecca, did the Mecca’s ansars say ‘muhajirs have arrived so let’s increase the price of bread’ or did they share [their bread]? Is this how you become an ansar?” Tapsız said.
Comparatively wealthy Syrians rent apartments in the downtown since they cannot buy houses in Turkey due to the Turkish land register law which came into effect after the southern province of Hatay joined Turkey following a referendum in 1939. Hatay was part of a French mandate of Syria before 1939.
“If they [Syrians] establish a company, then they can own properties on behalf of that company. Therefore [property ownership] is very rare [among Syrians],” Kara said.
But local Kilis residents are complaining that the need for unskilled personnel is being supplied by Syrians who work for low wages.
“I pay 30 Turkish Liras for my nephew who makes deliveries to homes but a Syrian is okay with getting 20 liras,” said Yılmaz, the store owner.
Likewise, the new arrivals have been blamed for causing an increase in housing rental prices as landlords raise prices due to rising demands. “I used to pay 150 liras for my apartment but now because of Syrians my rental price has gone up to 450 liras,” said a 26-year-old housewife, Ayşe Özdemir.
A retired civil servant, Abdi Uygun, said Syrians were working in jobs that Turks do not like such as agriculture, construction, textiles and running errands.
Still, unemployment in Kilis is almost non-existent, according to Tapsız. “There are 2,000 Kilis locals who work in the Öncüpınar and Elbeyli camps’ security and cleaning services, while 2,500 people are working as part of İŞKUR’s project of ‘Working for the Benefit of Society,’” said Tapsız.