Ateş Alpar – Adana
In Turkey, Adana plays a crucial role in the settlement of refugees. Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and the growing threat of ISIS transformed the Mirzaçelebi neighborhood in the Adana Seyhan district into “Little Aleppo”, an old name used by Syrians and Turks alike.
There are many tradesmen in the street, ranging from doner kebab sellers and shoemakers to jewelry shops and barbers. During the coronavirus pandemic, the street has been much quieter than usual. The shops have closed. Many tradesmen cannot afford their expenses.
The Seyhan district in Adana is a “mixed” city; Turks, Kurds and Arabs live together. Due to the pandemic, they face all kinds of problems, such as the inability to pay rent, the burden of debt and insecure work conditions. Women and children are especially affected. Syrian refugees say they are subjected to discrimination and they have complained about the closure of streets with police barriers.
It used to be very crowded here. Me, my brother and father were working. There is no sale now, I always wait like this. My father comes and goes to open his workplace. My brother sometimes goes to the sellers. We all used to work here because of the crowd. We came from Syria, there was a war there. There is no job here now and nobody supports us. People are not nice to us here. I don’t have Turkish friends, they always laugh when I speak Arabic. I do not see them anymore either. After the pandemic ends, if we earn money, I hope we will return to Syria.
My former workplace was on the corner of the street, a very busy and crowded place. We are one of Adana’s oldest turnip sellers, and have been running for more than 40 years. When we couldn’t afford the rent payment due to the pandemic, we moved to a smaller place. In the last six or seven years it has become an area for Syrians. There is no problem between us and Syrians.
There is a police barrier at every street point. Yes, this is because we do not allow cars, another reason is to prevent people entering the street without masks. This is a very crowded place. People call this place “Little Aleppo”. It is now the largest neighbourhood and consists of the tradesmen who fled the war in Syria and settled. We live together. We know each other and trust each other. My only wish is to end the pandemic and return the area to its old popularity. If we earn some money we are okay but the tradesmen here are in a bad situation. They do not make sales and close their shops. You know, if you do not make money, you close the business. We as tradesmen cannot even afford daily expenses.
Last year before the pandemic there were many customers in front of our bakery during these hours. They would come to buy bread. Tradesmen do not come here anymore, they prefer to buy bread from “public bread” [kiosk]. Most of the people living here are Syrian. Poor people fled from war and settled here. Since the pandemic, unfortunately, the shops are closing in this street every day, and we do not know when they will open. Most of us are unable to pay our debts. Due to increasing interest rates, we borrow money but close down the business and become unemployed. There are no supporters, so shopkeepers are in a bad situation.
We are brothers. When my father got sick, we took over the tobacco shop. Nobody works at home except us. We have one younger brother. We are Syrians, we do not know Turkish well enough. We were going to school, but after the pandemic outbreak the school was closed. I wish we can turn back to Syria. This street used to be very crowded, the sales of tobacco were good, but we sell at a loss now.
I migrated with my family when the war broke out in Syria. One of my sons stayed in Syria. We barely talk with him. I have two sons here. They were fired when the pandemic started. They were looking after us. Sometimes they work as construction workers. I have been here for five years. This is the first time I’ve seen so many police officers and police barriers on the streets. I don’t really understand why. Everyone knows each other in this neighbourhood. We speak Arabic. In the past, when we first came here, Turkish tradesmen despised us. When we spoke in our own language, they always used to insult us. We are crowded now here. People come here from everywhere, to eat, to shop. Since the virus, nobody can leave the house. I go out once a week. There is no support from the government or municipality. My only wish is to go back to Syria when the coronavirus ends. I want to die in my homeland.