Turkey’s highly contested Sunday election has used Syrians as scapegoats for the country’s financial turmoil, says a 28-year-old Syrian-Turkish actor and comedian living in Istanbul.
They are a nonbinary resident of Turkey’s largest city and, having faced several threats for the political comments they have made on stage, asked not to use their real name.
“When you're talking about deporting Syrians, you're talking about sending people to their death. As a Syrian, I feel like are you really comfortable with mass murder on that scale?”Syrian-Turkish actor and comedian
“When you're talking about deporting Syrians, you're talking about sending people to their death,” they said.
“As a Syrian, I feel like are you really comfortable with mass murder on that scale?”
Syrians fear deportation if Erdogan loses Turkish election
They said Syrians living in Turkey are highly concerned they will be deported back to their countries if the election is won by the opposition, which has repeatedly promised to send Syrians back.
A month after February’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in southeastern Turkey killed more than 50,000 people, many of them Syrians, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu visited the region and said Syrians will be returned home.
“We will send our Syrian brothers and sisters to their homeland within two years. We will also return Afghans to their country of departure, Iran," he said, according to the Duvar news agency.
Turkey hosts about 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world.
They have become a central issue in the Turkish elections, closely tied to the struggling economy which is seen as the top reason Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may lose power.
Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections were the greatest challenge to his power since he came to office more than 20 years ago and polls have suggested both races will be incredibly tight.
In the run-up to the elections, Erdogan had been attempting to thaw relations and the Turkish foreign minister met with his Syrian counterpart this week.
That has been in response to mounting pressure from the secular CHP, whose presidential candidate has repeatedly promised to send Syrians back on the campaign trail since his March visit to the border region.
Many Turkish people blame Syrian refugees for taking jobs and pushing down salary rates.
Turkey has seen skyrocketing inflation and a devalued lira, with the official inflation rate reported at 44% in April.
Independent economists have said the number is far higher, often evaluating the real rate at double the one reported by the state.
Last year, they stated inflation had reached past 180%.
While many Turkish people have tied Turkey’s economic pains to refugees, economists largely put the blame on Erdogan.
He is accused of undermining the independence of the central bank, which has repeatedly had a change of governors.
Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst for the risk intelligence company RANE, said that if there was a mass, forced removal of refugees then there would likely be a call for the European Union to boycott Turkish goods or the US Congress may not want to have F-16 fighters jets sold to Turkey, a top demand from Ankara.
“It would be an enormous blow to their international prestige. It would make them look dictatorial,” he told The Media Line.
The CHP has said it will engage with Syrian President Bashar Assad to ensure that Syrians can return home safely.
Assad has been accused of genocide, the widespread use of torture, and gassing his own citizens, including children.
Amid the pressure over refugees, Erdogan has said his country is building a “safe zone” in Syria where people can return to.
In 2019, he launched an offensive into the country, partly justifying it by stating it was to help set up such a zone.
Bohl said that a mass removal of Syrians back to Syria would be logistically difficult as the land is not large enough and there are not enough homes to house people who would return.
He added that he thought the Justice and Development (AK) party would have been able to use the issue around refugees more to its advantage than it actually has been.
"I would have thought AK would have been better positioned to manipulate this issue, and instead, I think that both sides have an equal claim in the eyes. of most voters to be in a good position to try to solve it or to try to solve it,” he said.
As for the Syrian actor in Istanbul, they say that Syrians who are able to cast ballots because they received Turkish citizenship faced a difficult choice between a party that wants to deport them and a party that has ruined the economy.
“We feel like we are stuck between a rock and a hard race,” they said.