It is the banana war between Syrian refugees and Turkey. It sounds like the theme of a humorous cartoon or a joke, but it really happened. Two viral videos triggered an unprecedented crisis between the Syrian community in Istanbul and the Turkish authorities. It all started with a fight in the market, when a middle-aged Turk addressed the refugees: “I see the Syrians in the bazaar buying kilos of bananas, and I can’t afford them.” However, the Syrians responded with another video on TikTok, where they eat banana after banana and make fun of the Turks. They never did. Eleven of them got an expulsion decree and now they risk ending up in Syria, and perhaps in the hands of Assad.
Banana jokes were just for fun on the web, but they didn’t enjoy everyone. A photo on social media even replaced the Turkish flag with a scorched banana. In a climate of growing hostility towards Turkey’s large Syrian community, bananas have become a symbol of division between the two populations. The newly founded Nationalist Victory Party filed a complaint against Syrian TikTok users for “offending the Turkish people and their flag.” Others on social media said the videos “mock the dire economic situation the Turks are facing.”
At a time of economic hardship, these videos also upset the power. Turkish police accused the 11 Syrians arrested of “provocation and incitement to hatred”. The immigration authority said it “will deport them after the necessary paperwork has been completed.” On social media, a member of the Syrian diaspora however specified: “We are not making fun of the Turks, we are making fun of racism. Economic deterioration affects us all ».
Turkey is home to the largest refugee population in the world, including 3.6 million Syrians. However, anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise, with a number of Turkish nationalist politicians fighting for stricter restrictions on those who want to enter the country. In addition, there are strict laws in Turkey that prohibit insults against the state, its flag and the president. The creators of these banana videos could be prosecuted under these laws.
According to some analysts, the Turks have begun to consider Syrian refugees as a “scapegoat” to give themselves an explanation of the serious economic crisis that the country is experiencing. The report by the UN refugee agency, for example, suggested that over 80% of Turks believe displaced Syrians thrive on government subsidies. In fact, less than half of the refugee population receives a monthly allowance of about $ 12 per family member, just enough to cover household expenses.
But as social trends come and go, these videos could have lasting consequences for some Syrians. The growing hostility towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has already translated into violence. Law enforcement officers arrested 76 people in August after a mob stormed an Ankara neighborhood where many Syrian immigrants live. A mass of people overturned cars, vandalized shops and chanted anti-Syrian slogans. Turkey used to be a country that once had a strong sense of humor, now it just seems like a distant memory.