'Syrians **** Off': Racist hashtag goes viral on Twitter following opposition's Istanbul victory

'Syrians **** Off': Racist hashtag goes viral on Twitter following opposition's Istanbul victory
The racist hashtag 'Syrians **** Off' has gone viral on Twitter following the victory of CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in Istanbul’s mayoral election on Sunday.
3 min read
25 June, 2019
The CHP’s election victory has been accompanied by racist sentiments against Syrians [Getty]

Syrians have been told to "go home" in very undiplomatic terms following the victory of CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in Istanbul's mayoral election.

A new hashtag, #SuriyelilerDefoluyor, which literally translates as "Syrians **** off" has been trending on Twitter.

It was used over 14,500 times since 23 June, when Imamoglu's victory over the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate, Benali Yildrim, was announced.

Three-and-a-half million Syrian refugees have arrived in Turkey since the start of war in the country in 2011. Over half-a-million live in Istanbul, with the historic Fatih district becoming known as "Little Syria".

Syrians have long been a target of popular resentment, while many refugees are either unemployed or working in low-paid menial jobs. They have suffered from racist portrayals in Turkish society as beggars, thieves, and prostitutes unable to adapt to Turkish society.

Both the CHP and the AKP have capitalised on anti-Syrian sentiments. During the election campaign, AKP candidate Yildrim, for example, said, "Istanbul residents should know that Syrians are not here to stay. And we will not allow for them to engage in illegal activities while here. Zero tolerance. We'll grab them by the ear and throw them out".

However, the AKP is generally seen as more welcoming to Syrians than the CHP. The CHP are usually characterised as a left-wing party but they have been far more associated with populist anti-Syrian sentiment.

Before Imamoglu won the Istanbul election, CHP mayors in several Turkish municipalities publicly used anti-Syrian rhetoric.

The mayor of the town of Kemalpasa in western Turkey, Ridvan Karakayli, said on TV, "We will get rid of Syrians. There is peace in Syria, so what are they doing here? There are shops with signboards with the Syrian language [a reference to Arabic] near our party [building]. I will remove them. They will be taken away from here."

Syrian refugees who have returned to Syria from abroad have been arrested and "disappeared" by the Assad regime. The Syrian conflict continues to rage in Idlib province and daily violence occurs in other parts of Syria.

CHP chairman Kemal Kilicardoglu alleged in 2017 that Syrians had become "first-class citizens" and Turks "second-class", saying there would be "an account for this".

While Imamoglu's win in the Istanbul mayoral election, which was held for a second time following a dispute over the results in the original election, was hailed as a victory for democracy and a check on the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it seems to have also emboldened racists. Tweets using the "Syrians **** off" hashtag appeared, some of them in English.

Many, however, also used the hashtag to express opposition to its sentiments, and to point out that Turks themselves were the victims of racism in some countries: