Three Syrian youths murdered in “extraordinarily racist” arson attack in November, says human rights activist in Istanbul

IZMIR, Turkey — On Tuesday, Turkish media outlet Duvar reported the death of three Syrian youths who were burned to death last month in the Turkish province of Izmir. On Wednesday, Turkish daily newspaper Evrensel reported that the unnamed perpetrator of the attack admitted his guilt.

The perpetrator, a Turkish youth, poured gasoline into the room of the three Syrians, leading to the death of Ahmad al-Bish (17) and Mamoun al-Nabhan (23). Five days after the crime, Ahmed al-Ali (21) succumbed to burns he sustained in the attack.

Human rights activist with Refugees Rights Platform Taha el-Ghazi said that the crime was “extraordinarily racist”. El-Ghazi added that the families of the victims met yesterday evening with the lawyers who are handling the case.

El-Ghazi, who resides in Istanbul, stated that, “the families of the victims are supposed to have met yesterday evening with the lawyers who are handling the case,” adding that, “the motives for the Turkish perpetrator’s crime, according to preliminary information, were purely racist.”

Regarding the evidence, the human rights activist explained that “what confirms this is that the perpetrator, hours before he burned the three young men, told a Turkish citizen present in the same area that he would burn the Syrian youths, as the Turkish citizen submitted his statement to the Turkish police on this matter.”

El-Ghazi stated that of the three deceased young men, one of them was from the countryside of Hmoth (Hama), and the others were from the countryside of Holeb (Aleppo), according to the information available to the authorities.

Turkish authorities have kept quiet about the crime, according to el-Ghazi.

While “the families of the victims did not hide the crime and were not exposed to any threat, the reason for not spreading the news is the absence of Syrians in the area,” he elaborated. “The authorities were unable to find the families of the victims because [the victims] lived alone in the area.”

Attacks Against Syrians in Turkey Continue

In August, hundreds of protesters assaulted Syrian homes in Altindag, a suburb of Ankara. Syrian stores were also raided and looted.

The killing of a local Turkish youth, reportedly by Syrians, sparked the violence.

The ensuing violence lasted for several hours.

Unconfirmed reports claim that individuals from across the city traveled to participate in the attacks. No official data has been released about injuries caused by the violence.

Many Syrian refugees live in Altindag, a suburban electoral bastion of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

A month after the violence in Altindag, the Interior Ministry announced it would demolish the houses of Syrian refuges in the district, saying they were built illegally.

The refugees were given one week to relocate.

In early 2020, violence aimed at the Syrian community and migrants more broadly broke out in several towns across Turkey.

On 29 February, a Turkish soldier killed in Edleb (Idlib) was buried in the town of Kahramanmaras located in southeastern Turkey. Afterwards, a mob formed and attacked Syrian-owned businesses.

Video showing several men kicking the iron shutters of several closed Syrian-owned businesses on Atatürk Boulevard circulated on social media.

Soon after, on 1 March in the northern town of Samsun, a group of Turkish teenagers beat up two migrant teens. According to a local media outlet, the two victims were Iraqi.

In July 2019, the mere rumor of a Syrian man sexually assaulting a Turkish minor resulted in mob violence in the Ikitelli neighborhood in Istanbul. A group of men went on a rampage, ransacking Syrian-owned businesses.

While Istanbul’s police have stated no such assault happened, it provoked a wave of violence spurred by social media and bigoted sentiments made by numerous prominent opposition politicians.

Journalist Uraz Aydin, a member of “We want to live together” (Birlikte Yasamak Istiyoruz), an initiative that fights anti-Syrian racism in Turkey, told France24 that:

“The racism that Syrians and other migrants face in Turkey comes from all across the political spectrum, from the secular left to the Islamic conservatives who make up the AKP [Editor’s note: Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party]. Many Turkish people believe that the government has accepted too many people – around four million Syrian – and that Syrians have stolen Turkish jobs or contributed to the collapse of the economy.

This is all fed by a more deeply rooted racism against Arabs in general. There are a lot of racist stereotypes and cliches that circulate on social media, like photos of Syrians smoking shisha on the beach while Turkish soldiers die on the frontlines in Syria.

There is a new wave of violence against Syrians in Turkey almost every time that Turkish soldiers die in Syria.

The problem is that the population wants to blame Syrians for this situation and make them the scapegoats. In my opinion, we should be criticizing the military intervention.”