Omar and Ömer walk into a voting booth
Voting as a "Syrian-Turk"
Three days to the election, and I can’t sleep. I put Twitter on my phone again and check the news every five minutes or so.
I’ll be on here with thoughts before Sunday.
Today though, I have the honor of introducing the first-ever guest writer to Kültürkampf! Omar Kadkoy is a colleague and dear friend of mine at TEPAV. He’s also a brilliant researcher and talented writer.
He’ll tell you what it’s about.
All the best,
Ballot boxes are set up in schools in Turkey. Yesterday, I went to the one my mother and I are going to vote on Sunday. Just to check it out. We are from Syria, and our family came here in 2012 to flee the war. We are now citizens of Turkey, and this Sunday, we will be voting in Ankara’s first electoral district.
My mother is in her late sixties. She has Syrian friends with whom she speaks in Arabic, and since we are of Circassian extraction, also Circassian-Turkish friends with whom she speaks in Circassian. She mainly gets her news on Turkey from Arabic-speaking media outlets. Two of the four faces on the presidential voting paper are familiar to her: Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu. The latter represents the “anti-Syrian” camp to her, and not without reason. Kılıçdaroğlu has said that he wants to send millions of Syrians back, and though he couches it in very friendly language, the safety concerns of Syrians often seem of secondary concern to him. It’s not that my mother is a fan of Erdoğan – when pushed, she says that he has probably been in power long enough, and that change would be good. Still, to put it in her words, “he welcomed us.” I think her decision on election day will be about paying a personal debt.
Things are a little different for me. I’m a man in my mid-thirties and have integrated into Turkish society. I am the outward-facing part of our household, paying the bills, doing groceries, dealing with the landlord. To my barber and dry cleaner, I am never “Omar” but “Ömer abi.” Since coming here, I earned a Master’s degree from Middle East Technical University and work as a think tank analyst. My social circles are made up of a mix of Turks, Syrians and “expats” (what snobby Westerners’ call themselves when they’re abroad.) When people hear where I’m from, they sometimes say something like “you don’t seem like a Syrian!” which is supposed to be a compliment. If you ever feel the need to say something like that – please don’t.
Anyways, like many Turks, I also want change. But of what kind? The main opposition coalition strives to move the country closer to Europe, but they are adamant to enforce an antiquated form of nation-statehood. Germany is quickly becoming “multicultural,” with hyphenated Germans moving up in the country – even recent arrivals from Syria. Ostelsheim, a municipality in the state of Baden-Württemberg, elected as its mayor a man who fled Syria in 2015. Merkel took a lot of criticism for her “we can do it” line and temporary opening her country’s borders in 2015, but her country, it seems, really was ready. Could people of Syrian origin take part in politics in Turkey? There is actually a Syrian-Turkish businessman who is running on AK Party’s ticket in Mersin for the parliamentary elections. “Syrians, like Armenians and Kurds,” he has said, “should have MPs in the parliament.” I doubt he’ll be elected this cycle though. I think most people in Turkey aren’t ready yet.
According to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, exactly 130,914 freshly minted “Syrian-Turks” will have the right to vote on Sunday – a drop in the bucket of the 64 million eligible voters. Still, some think us a threat
Take the “Victory Party,” a far-right outfit campaigning solely on an anti-immigration. In late April, the party’s chairman Ümit Özdağ encountered a Syrian man on the street, who said to him “Tayyip [Erdoğan] will win and he’ll send us both back to Syria.” Other Syrian-Turks speaking to a social media outlet also said they’d vote for Erdoğan. People think it’s blind loyalty, but it often isn’t. One, for example, said he saw Erdoğan as the lesser of two evils, saying “even if there are a few question marks about his position on Syria and Syrians, he isn’t like the others whose position is much worse.”
The left is also more progressive on immigration. TİP, EMEP and the HDP all advocate for a more humane stance on migrants. Aside for a small group of Syrians who share a similar stance, the AKP’s “muhacir ve ensar” discourse overshadows the secular, human rights-driven position.
Personally, I can’t distance myself from the Turkish opposition’s overall negative rhetoric against Syrians. And like my mother, I also feel a debt to the country that took us in and gave us citizenship. As a policy analyst, I know that Kılıçdaroğlu’s promise of repatriating Syrians through rapprochement with Asad is going to be far more complicated than he makes it seem. Erdoğan of course, has also jumped on that bandwagon, and it’s equally concerning.
My journey in Turkey saw ups and downs, but I am a citizen of the Republic of Turkey now, and I call Ankara my home. My gratitude to Turkey is infinite. I want nothing but the best for this country, now and in the future. This is a responsibility greater than a particular party or a specific politician. I will head to the polls on Sunday with said responsibility. Hayırlısı olsun!
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