La polémique sur la présence des Syriens à Ehden (Liban-Nord)

Suite à la polémique suscitée par la décision des autorités locales de Zgharta de demander aux Syriens de quitter Ehden, villégiature montagnarde désertée par ses habitants entre octobre et juin, Olivia Albaster, journaliste pour Al Jazeera, a interrogé Assaf Dahdah sur la nature des relations entre la population locale et les Syriens, et les motivations des autorités quant à leur politique discriminatoire.

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The Locals, the Syrians and the 15 July Coup Attempt in Gaziantep

By H. Pınar Şenoğuz

Article re-published with the permission of HarekAct blog


The photos are courtesy of the author and cannot not be reproduced without permission

photo-1-billboard-woman_s%cc%a7enog%cc%86uzPhoto 1 – Syrian woman in front of a billboard reading “We are the nation! We shall not allow the wasting of Turkey by the coup and terror”

Turkish politics is full of surprises with intriguing conclusions – or perhaps we cannot talk about endings yet – and diverse social impact among its adherents. The 15 July coup attempt and the ‘resistance of Turkish people’ hailed by the national media, for instance, was such an extraordinary event as the anthropologist Lisa Malkki would coin (Malkki, 1997). Malkki directed our attention to the singular, exceptional and extraordinary events which could be formative instances in the lives of refugees. For her, turning his/her anthropological gaze away from the routine, the everyday and the ordinary is essential to capture the atypical and transitory circumstances. I believe the coup attempt was one of such conjunctures that produced ‘unexpected but consequential groupings’ (Malkki, 1997: 93) among the resident populations in Turkey. Here, I do not only refer to the Turkish nationals but also to the Syrian population overcrowding in the urban slums and even outnumbering the nationals in some border towns.

Naturally, the demonstrations in Gaziantep were concerted efforts of the political party in power, the AKP, just like the other cities. The coup attempt took place on the night of the 15 July with military troupes and tanks appearing in the streets and low flying planes, notably with the most iconic image of the blocked Bosphorus Bridge. The live Facetime speech of President Erdoğan calling the Turkish people to the squares to stop the coup attempt triggered ordinary citizens to get out of their homes and go on the streets. In Gaziantep, the event caused the occupation of the major urban square – true to its name, the Square of Democracy – during the nights to watch over the democracy as elsewhere in the country. Flocks gathered in the meeting points in order to march to their destinations by chanting nationalist slogans and shouting “Allah is great”. The public transportation was rendered for free for the initial days and was then used to transport cheerful citizens in the evenings to the square from the neighbourhoods and back, prompting more people to join the demonstrations.

My observations are related to the post-coup demonstrations after the failed attempt, which lasted nearly a month in Gaziantep – the Turkish city bordering with Syria –, and its impact on the Syrian refugees. As Malkki reminds us (1997), the atypical circumstances in which people’s movements are dictated by the events are destined to be dealt with in the news and by journalists. Not surprisingly, the Syrians facing a potential civil war and chaos with the coup attempt in Turkey have been covered by the international newspapers.1 What impact does a military – though abortive – attempt have on the Syrians living in Gaziantep? What is the sociological significance of their reactions? My observations stem from a monthly fieldwork which I started in the late spring but which, after being interrupted, I could resume only recently.2 Here, I will sketch out the Syrian reactions in Gaziantep. I will discuss them with reference to the genealogy of migration in the city.

I carried out the fieldwork to explore how the encounters and interactions between the local and Syrian communities have been shaped in the post-conflict situation in the urban outskirts of Gaziantep. As a reminder: the riots against Syrian refugees broke out in the mid-August 2014 after the alleged murder of a Turkish landlord by his Syrian tenant in Gaziantep, a city which is dominated by the trope of hospitality towards Syrians. The events sparked or unleashed the hatred against Syrians among the locals in the urban outskirts and led to the lynching of Syrians by nationalist youth groups, vandalizing their homes, shops and cars. The enraged youth carrying Turkish flags continued for several days to terrorize the Syrians on the street, and lots of wounded ended up in hospitals. As the hatred turned into an anti-Syrian protest, following the eviction of Syrian refugees from the urban settlements in Hatay (September 2012) and the anti-Syrian protest in Kahramanmaraş (July 2014), the police forces evicted the Syrian dwellings marked by unhealthy and insecure living conditions. Presently, Gaziantep is a city of nearly two million people sheltering 350,000 Syrian refugees in the city – including 33,000 in the camps.

The tumultuous situation also pointed out how fragile the co-presence of various migrant communities in the outskirts of Gaziantep was. I visited the outskirt neighbourhoods in a district close to the location where the murder of the Turkish landlord sparked the assault on the Syrians. These are the areas of working class people, mostly migrants from villages and neighbouring cities who have moved to Gaziantep out of economic motives since the 1950s, but who have also forcibly migrated allegedly for supporting the Kurdish liberation movement PKK (Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan) in the 1990s. I chose six zones to elaborate the post-conflict situation among neighbourhoods: Ünaldı, Karayılan-Türkmenler, Vatan, Çıksorut, Cinderesi and Düztepe.3 They accommodated various ethno-religious communities, namely Kurds, Turkish, Arabs, sedentary Roma (abdal people), and Zazas with Sunni or Alevi identities.

The Turkish-Syrian border is characterized in the Turkish scholarly debate as place of authentic multiculturalism, in the case of Hatay (Doğruel, 2013) and cosmopolitanism based on multiple and controversial ways of remembering and forgetting the Armenian genocide of 1915, in the case of Mardin (Biner, 2010), the two other cities bordering Syria. It is true that the local states at the border presently tend to emphasize on the multiculturality of their cities. These cities use to harbour the ethno-religious diversity, which is partly remnant from the Ottoman past. This region constituted the inland frontier of the Empire with the Bedouin lands where the rebellious and exiled Arabic, Kurdish and Turcoman tribes were resettled. According to the historian Seda Altuğ, however, the Turkish-Syrian border is rather characterized by the ethnic hostility and religious sectarianism, which was created by the very birth of the nation-state and the nationalization in the late Ottoman and early Republican period (Altuğ, 2002). On the other hand, Zeynep Özgen points out that, in contemporary Turkey, the maintenance of ethnic boundaries in the public sphere is discouraged and their reproduction is confined to the private sphere, as in the case of Antakya (Özgen, 2015). I suggest that this is what renders the ethno-religious diversity fragile and easily slipping into conflict. Similarly, the city of Gaziantep use to harbour the uneasy balance among different ethno-religious communities, which could be easily unsettled by acts of violence according to local intellectuals.4

One should read the anti-Syrian sentiments and conflict between the locals and refugees against this backdrop. I suggest that the trope of multiculturalism and hospitality in the case of Syrians at the border conceals the workings of everyday violence among these communities. Therefore, one should focus on the capitalistic, patriarchal and paternalistic power relations that draw boundaries between and across them, as well as the silent and oblique tactics that seek to transgress these boundaries. I argue that the July 15 coup attempt reveals an instance where one can observe these tactics played off by the refugees in their participation in the post-coup demonstrations.

The Migrant Other in Gaziantep

The immigration to Gaziantep from the nearby villages and cities has been problematized by the elite for the last two decades, especially with reference to the ‘migrants coming from the east’, residing in the slum areas of the city with high levels of unemployment and a lack of infrastructural investments (Yüksel, 2014). The migrants settled in the outskirts of the city and catered the needs of the manufacturing sector, large and small, scattered within and around the neighbourhoods. The city, an export giant in the region, used to produce mainly textile, food, chemicals and plastic products in five organized industrial zones -the largest in the country. Also it had a prospering subsidiary industry before the Syrian war. The local industry took advantage of the abundant labour force that had migrated to the city, working long hours, low-paid and uninsured, especially in the deregulated industrial sites like the Small Industrial Site (Küçük Sanayi Sitesi), Ünaldı-Şehreküstü region, Nizip Street and the Footwear Producers’ Site (Ayakkabıcılar Sitesi) and in the small workshops of the outsourced garment and shoe industry. A 2005 Survey estimated that 81% of the population in the slum areas lacked adequate health service (Adaman&Ardıç, 2008). These neighborhoods were matched in the public imagery with images of poverty, crime and substance use among youth. Hence, the elite embraced a paradoxical coupling of the city as the locus of cultural diversity and as a place of degradation due to the incoming migrants, by drawing a boundary between the autochthone and the migrant.

photo-2-women-in-garment-factory_s%cc%a7enog%cc%86uzPhoto 2 – Syrian women working in a garment factory

Although the immigration to Gaziantep was stated as problematic by the elite, the city had never been a final destination but rather a stop-over in the chain migration to bigger cities. According to Turkstat, the net migration rate remained very low, with the highest ratio of 4.2% between 1995 and 2000 when the ongoing war between the Turkish army and the PKK guerrilla in the South-Eastern region culminated in its dirtiest phase. The migrants moved to the city through established social networks and mainly from the rural side or contiguous towns of Şanlıurfa, Kilis, Adıyaman, Kahramanmaraş, Osmaniye and Hatay. Besides, the city also pulled lesser but notable migration from other cities in Southeastern (Siirt, Mardin, Şırnak, Diyarbakır, Batman, Bitlis), Eastern (Malatya, Van, Elazığ, Muş, Sivas) and Central (Konya, Kayseri) Anatolia as well as from the Mediterranean Region (Adana, Mersin). In the last decade, the pattern of migration was rendered predominantly cyclical: low-income families tending to move seasonally to Gaziantep or other larger cities, back and forth, including the conflict-driven migration. For instance, the migration statistics indicate that the Van earthquake in 2011, rocket strikes in Kilis during the first half of 2016 and the military sieges in the Kurdish towns of Cizre and Sur pushed the families to hold on to their kinship relations in Gaziantep and provisionally immigrate to the city.5

Interestingly, the city did not only attract lower-class peasant or urban families, but also migrant entrepreneurs that wanted to stay away from the conflict environment of the war (Yüksel, 2014). The pro-business environment and strong political connections with the center pulled the investors to the city, which turned into an Anatolian Tiger in the mid-1990s, promoted by state incentives and a growing manufacturing sector exporting to the Middle Eastern countries. A collaborative environment emphasizing the collective interests of business encouraged a stronger sense of belonging among the migrant entrepreneurs and marginalized the Kurdish identity of the working-class migrants, spatially enclosing them to the outskirts.6 Although the elite adopted a cosmopolitan discourse, it singled out the particularity of Gaziantep as the safe haven for business in the midst of (PKK) terror and thus planted localism in its heart (Yücebaş, 2016; also Yüksel, 2014). Presently, this local identity governs the city from the center to the outskirts and prompts the old migrants to assume an autochthonous identity, reclaim the city space and xenophobically exclude the Syrian incomers.

The attacks on the Syrian refugees and the tumultuous situation had soon dissipated, but I observed that the repugnance among the locals was still in place after two years. In the Karayılan-Türkmenler and Ünaldı region where the Syrians’ dwellings were excessively attacked, the small shops run by the Syrian refugees within the neighbourhood alleys are barely left, except for a few groceries and tailor shops. In the Karayılan-Türkmenler region, a mukhtar7 told me how he guided the police forces when the locals rioted against the Syrians and the latter were evicted from the shops they had rented. According to the mukhtar, the Syrian tenants in the shops had sneaked into the midst of locals by gradually and mischievously occupying more space on the sidewalks and, thus, on the street life of the neighbourhood. Apparently, the hot summer nights did not allow the tenants, mostly male bachelors, to take shelter in the shop, and they needed to open the pull-down shutters. The mukhtar said that they started to sit on the pavement during the nights and smoked water-pipe tobacco, a symbol for the locals for how different the Syrian culture allegedly was. For him, the Syrians had disturbed the order and had acted immorally by slipping into the common space of the alley. The locals had the habit of sitting on the pavement day and night since their neighbourhood often lacked green spaces and parks. However, according to the Syrian interlocutors, the Syrians were not used to sit at the doorsteps and pavements. They told me that they used to go in the parks on every occasion, which they mostly lacked in Gaziantep because the green areas in the outskirt neighbourhood were rather scarce. Thus, it is understood that the locals’ view of the Syrians, as articulated by the mukhtar, just objected the presence of Syrians in the common spaces and expected them to adapt to the local culture and learn their habit.8 I tried to provoke the mukhtar by asking whether the Syrian culture did not include any element that the locals could appropriate. He repudiated them: “The Syrians do not have anything nice that we [the Turkish people] can borrow”.

The measures by the local state to suppress the assaults to the Syrians actually strengthened the feeling of insecurity among them. The authorities detained the Syrian families living on the ground floors of unplastered and cheaply built apartments, in ruined factory and housing buildings, jerry-built tents in the parks or on the street collecting garbage, and relocated them to the camps. They also announced it to the public.9 They ordered the replacement of the Arabic signs in the Syrian shops by Turkish ones. Several Syrian shops with Arabic signs today opt for hanging the Turkish flag as a tactic. For the last two years, the Syrian refugees have tended to maintain a low profile. They try to avoid confrontation with the locals and to not respond if someone teases them. “We do not want to have any problems with the locals”, said a young male running a humble restaurant with his uncle in İnönü Street. A Syrian woman from Vatan region explained that she used to return home looking foremost down onto the ground, without exchanging any word with the neighbours sitting at the doorstep.

Nonetheless, the local landlords continue to rent their shops as dwellings with poor living conditions, e.g. in the neighbourhoods of Cinderesi, Vatan and Düztepe. The xenophobic discourse among the locals is likely to conceal the rent extraction. For example, in some Düztepe neighbourhoods, there is an old but rampant tendency among the landlords to rent their houses to the incomers – now, the Syrians – and move to the upgraded neighbourhoods in Karataş region, a new urbanization site at the edge of the city that offers affordable housing to the lower and higher middle class families. The Syrians were also able to open shops and establish small businesses, particularly garment or shoe manufacturing workshops in the back alleys where they could escape the financial inspection more easily, just like the locals. The Syrian families can work home-based as well, by taking part in the outsourced manufacturing of the garment and shoe industry extending to the small and inconspicuous workshops in these neighbourhoods. The Syrian males and children in particular have replaced the locals as the cheap labour working for the local industry.

photo-3-home-based-work_s%cc%a7enog%cc%86uzPhoto 3 – Home-based work

Many Syrian interviewees complained about the high level of rents for dwellings which are overpriced and yet unfavourable places. They sometimes insisted to bring me to their home for having my confirmation on how bad the housing conditions are. Most of them told me that the landlords rejected to pay for the basic repairing of the neglected dwellings, like installing a window. Still, these neighbourhoods attract the Syrian refugees to their barely affordable dwellings and shops as well as their proximity to the industrial workplaces where the salaries have drastically decreased.

Thus, the complaints among the locals are abundant about the high increase of rents and the decrease of wages. Many expressed that they suffer because of the Syrian presence in the city. They deplore the distribution of humanitarian aid, food, coal and money to the Syrians while they do not even receive state support as citizens of the country, as they state. A family in Cinderesi, migrant of Şanlıurfa, for instance, challenged the open-border policy of the Turkish government by saying that “letting the Syrians in our midst was wrong”. They believed that the Syrians should be enclosed in the camps. The family has rented the ground floor as a second hand shop to the Syrians and the family was living on the upper tier. The parents had a son who, involved in a quarrel with the Syrian young in the vicinity was stabbed in his back, a knife wound almost hitting his lungs. Having escaped from death and just turned 20, the young boy was receiving his friends visiting him to say their get-well wishes while I was listening to his parents in a park filled with adults and children, both locals and Syrians. The park was an entertainment place for the families during the day and evening and a nightly zone of dispute among the Syrians or between the local and Syrian youth. The young usually chose the park as the appropriate location to engage in quarrels and settle disputes according to my young Syrian translator from a nearby neighbourhood.

The two-tier apartment stood just behind the family sitting on the rug and I was running my eye over it while I gave ear to the conversation. The father, as if he was reading the thought slipping through my mind, abruptly added: “The fact that I have rented my house to the Syrians would not let me want them to stay because of the money. If you have pity on people, you will end up pitiable.” Just like that the parents explained their resentment for having their son harmed by some Syrians whom, war-torn and desperate, they initially helped. The father also expressed his concern about the security of the Syrian family whose son committed the assault. According to the father, a beloved man in the neighbourhood, the neighbours vigilantly watched an opportunity to step in if they realized that the Syrian family had not yet left the vicinity. Later, I talked to a young friend of mine, a local himself who knew the neighbourhood youth, and I happened to think that the father actually feared the retaliation of Syrians. He told me that the friends of the stabbed young had stabbed four Syrian young men in retaliation. Although the Syrian family pursued for conciliation by putting the local mukhtar as an intermediary, the father refused and wanted the family to quit the neighbourhood. From the viewpoint of the locals, it was the Syrians who should leave when there was a problem between the locals and Syrian refugees.

photo-4-family-dwelling-in-shop_s%cc%a7enog%cc%86uzPhoto 4 – Syrian family living in a shop with bare walls

While this story constitutes an example to the anti-Syrian sentiments among the locals, I want to use it as a backdrop to the post-coup reactions among both communities. The Kurdish family, for instance, suggested that the fleeing of Syrian refugees from Syria indicated a sign of moral degeneration and decline among the latter. The mother complained about the Syrians by referring to the coup attempt of July 15. To her, the (Turkish) people, stood united against the coup attempt as the Turkish president Erdoğan called his supporters to take to the streets and face down the coup initiators, whereas the Syrians locked themselves in at their homes. Then she put bluntly what most of my interviewees hypocritically mumbled: If the Syrians united and reclaimed their country in the way that Erdoğan asked the Turkish people to do, they would not end up with the war in Syria.

The Syrians after the July 15 Coup

The Syrians in Gaziantep did not shut themselves in at their homes in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Rather, the national campaign to make the citizens move for “protecting the democracy” after the coup attempt was effectual on the Syrians as well. The urban residents received daily SMS messages from the female mayor of the city, notifying about the gatherings and rallies that were staged. The advertisement on giant screens and billboards conveyed the messages by the district and metropolitan municipalities, celebrating the nightly gatherings of the crowds in the main square of the city. After the 15 July attempt, small gatherings all over the city headed to the main square of the city for the democracy watch. They occupied the Democracy Square, which was cordoned off by the police forces, listened to the speeches and religious chants and waved Turkish flags. Families and children were also spread over the abutting greens to have nocturnal picnic and fun. For the Syrians, it was a good opportunity to go out and join among the crowd. For their children, it was a good opportunity to grab small treats and giveaways distributed on the square, like soup or t-shirts presenting the Turkish flag.

photo-5-brothers-with-turkish-flag-shirts_s%cc%a7enog%cc%86uzPhoto 5 – Syrian brothers with Turkish flag t-shirts in a shoe manufacturing workshop

The emancipatory potential of the squares occupied for the democracy watch came under both the media and scholarly scrutiny. The Turkish scholars of the social movements Türkmen and Küçük, for instance, questioned how much the crowded public squares could open a way to the social diversity to mingle with and transform each other.10 According to them, although the demonstrations orchestrated by AKP pointed to the ultimate desire of establishing a new fascistic national consensus regime and authoritarian domination by the Sunni-Turkish majority, they also provided room for the masses to feel themselves empowered in opposing the military coup for the first time in the Turkish history – although they were greatly helped by the lack of support to the coup among the top brass in the army.

The nature of the mass participation to the post-coup demonstrations is beyond the scope of this discussion. But the point is that the post-coup demonstrations reshuffled the sentiments of belonging and identification among the Syrians who took to the streets. The Syrian refugees were not visible in the public square of Gaziantep, but they were noticeable on the route to the square as crowds started to march from different venues in the city. There were eye witness accounts about the first evenings of the march in the old city center, saying that the flags of the Free Syrian Army were waved. The Syrian interviewees, the assistants of a garment shop selling evening dresses in İnönü Street, an almost liberated zone and hub of the Syrian refugees with shops and restaurants, showed me the video taken by their smart phone at another evening. Together, we watched a flow of Turkish flags passing by the street where almost all shops were run by the Syrians and saw the latter attending or participating in the march.

In the neighbourhoods, the Syrian refugees expressed their worries and fears about the coup. A man in his thirties with five children, one dead in Syria, could only find a shanty shop, unplastered and unfurnished, as an affordable dwelling to rent. His wife was out to check the mukhtar to ask for the food voucher distributed by the humanitarian organizations. The single chamber comprised two small doorless rooms and a toilet that were built in later to furnish the place as a tenement. It lacked a kitchen and a bathroom. He paid 250 Liras for the rent and earned 300 Liras per week in a plastic slippers factory where he could intermittently work due to the curbed production. He said that he felt very sorry about the Turkish people. He believed that his people had suffered the worst and hoped the Turkish not to experience the same. “They should not undergo what we had, there are also good people here”, he noted. He had taken to the street during the campaign to support them.

Among the interviewees, some sympathized with Erdoğan – which is a well-known trend among the Syrian refugees in Turkey – for his success to confront the coup attempt. Nonetheless, the refugees I spoke to went on to analyze the coup attempt and to compare the case with the Syrian state. They declared that the Syrian state waged a war against its own people whereas Erdoğan called Turkey’s people to claim the state. In their viewpoint, Erdoğan told its people that the State is theirs and, thus, they protected it. To some of the Syrian refugees, the success of Erdoğan, became a leverage to express their dissent to their fellow countrymen who supported Assad and dissented from Erdoğan’s involvement in the Syrian war.

I believe that the coup attempt created the conjunctures not only for the nationals but also for the Syrian refugees to position themselves, take action and embrace agency regarding the Turkish politics, even though they used to refrain from it. Interestingly, the Syrian refugees are developing a sense of belonging to an increasingly authoritarian rule. Does this mean that the Syrian refugees support the regime reformation which reinforces the Sunni-Turkish bloc and virtually runs against their own interests? My answer is: yes, it does. Here I am reminded of what a Turcoman Syrian interviewee in Düztepe said, referring to Erdoğan’s offering of citizenship to the Syrians in July 2016: “Do you think Erdoğan will grant citizenship to the Syrians? Can you imagine the Turkish state naturalizing the non-Turks? No, it will only be granted to the Turcoman and maybe to the rich Syrians.”

The scholarly and humanitarian discourses on the Syrian refugees are predominated by the question of integration, which is apprehended uncritically in the Turkish context to refer to the social inclusion of refugees and their access to rights. This question needs to be reformulated. On the one side, the Syrian refugees try to manage their participation into the Turkish society in their mundane and oblique tactics and improvise ways of belonging, albeit differently. On the other side, they are left with the only option of integration to the Sunni-Turkish culture, which exclude them on the basis of class and ethnicity (and religion), and deny their differences as well as rights. The same question is also valid for the locals. We have long known it for instance as the Kurdish problem.


Adaman F. & Ardıç, P. (2008) “Social Exclusion in the Slum Areas of Large Cities in Turkey”, NPT, vol. 38, 29-60.

Altuğ, S. (2002) Between Colonial and National Dominations: Antioch under the French Mandate (1920-1939), unpublished MA thesis, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul.

Biner, Ö. and Soykan, C. (2016) “Suriyeli Mültecilerin Perspektifinden Türkiye’de Yaşam“, published report, Mülteci-Der Yayınları, Istanbul.

Biner, Ö. Z. (2010) “Acts of Defacement, Memory of Loss: Ghostly Effects of the “Armenian Crisis” in Mardin, Southeastern Turkey”, History & Memory, 22(2): 68-94.

Doğruel, F. (2013) “An Authentic Experience of “Multiculturalism” At the Border City of Antakya”, Çağdaş Türkiye Tarihi Araştırmaları Dergisi/Journal of Modern Turkish History Studies XIII/26 (Bahar/Spring), 273-295.

Gültekin, M. N. (2016). “Antep Saldırısı: Gerçekten (Hâlâ) Şaşırtıcı Olan Bir Şey Var Mı?” Birikim, 22 August 2016

Malkki, L. (1997) “News and Culture: Transitory Phenomena and the Fieldwork Tradition”, pp. 86-101 in ed. Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science, University of California Press.

Özden, Ş. (2013) Syrian Refugees in Turkey, Migration Policy Centre Research Report No. 2013/05. Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole (FI).

Özgen, Z. (2015) “Maintaining ethnic boundaries in “non-ethnic” contexts: constructivist theory and the sexual reproduction of diversity”, Theory and Society 44(1), pp. 33-64.

Tarlan, K. V. (2016) “Gri Alanlar Kararırken: Antep”, Birikim, 25 August 2016.

Yavuz Y. (2016): Gaziantep Bombing Drives a Wedge Between Turkey and the Kurds. Research Turkey, 27 August 2016; available at

Yücebaş, M. (2016) “Kibrimizdi Sizi/Bizi Öldüren: Gaziantep’te Kim Sağ Kaldı!” Birikim, 23 August 2016.

Yüksel, A. S. (2014) “Migrants as Entrepreneurs” in eds. Deniz Korfalı and Deniz Sert, Migration and Turkey: Changing Human Geography, ISIS: Istanbul.


  2. I conducted my research on Syrian migration in Turkey within the framework of the Lajeh project ANR-15-CE28-0005.
  3. The names of these regions are given after one particular neighborhood. But in the local vernacular they also suggest a larger region comprising several neighbourhoods.
  4. The concerns for the endangering of ethno-religious diversity and infiltration of violence among various communities have resurfaced with a suicide attack on a Kurdish street wedding lately. The blast killed 54 people, mostly children, and wounded many. The so-called “Islamic State” is blamed for the attack deliberately targeting the Kurdish community (see Yavuz, 2016). Research Turkey, 27 August 2016; available at See for the debates among local intellectuals on the impact of bombing on ethno-religious diversity Gültekin (2016), Tarlan (2016) and Yücebaş (2016). Gültekin and Tarlan discuss the blast from the macro-political perspective as a punch to the already fragile balance among different ethno-religious communities in Gaziantep. On the other hand, Yücebaş (2016) stresses the micro-political dimension by discussing in what ways the local identity of the city marginalizes different cultural lifestyles and anchors an abstract autochthonism as its mainstream.
  5. Similarly, the city temporarily sheltered some 1,000 families from Kobane, a border town in Northern Syria besieged by the so-called “Islamic State” in September 2014. Here also, the kinship relations as well as political mobilization of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP, organized within the Turkish borders of the imagined Kurdistan geography) were effective to pull this migration (Interview with a former district co-head of DBP).
  6. Yüksel (2014) suggests that the migrant entrepreneurs of Kurdish origin felt themselves as accepted in the city and their geographical proximity and cultural affinity facilitated their integration. However, the local businessmen could also express their discomfort and doubt towards migrant entrepreneurs and their family by distinguishing their own cultural values with the migrant group in question. For instance, there adopted negative accounts about the businessmen from Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish town which was greatly affected from the state violence against the civilians in the 1990s. But the Kurdish identity of the migrant group is not overtly expressed in these accounts.
  7. A mukhtar is an elected governor of the smallest unit in the local state, i.e. neighbourhoods and villages, and administratively connects the neighbourhoods or villages with broader public authorities. The mukhtar offices are the first step in the registration procedures of Syrian refugees.
  8. Several researchers indicated the reason for the backlash against the Syrians as their being labelled as guests. Hence, the locals expected them to behave like a guest, conforming to the rules of the hosts and not wearing out their welcome. See for instance Özden (2013) and Biner&Soykan (2016).


Les réfugiés syriens dans le casa de Zgharta (Liban) : premières observations sur les défis de l’exil et les enjeux de l’installation dans un espace secondaire

Selon le HCR, le nombre de réfugiés syriens enregistrés au Liban est estimé à plus d’1 million de personnes en juillet 2016, réfugiés dispersés sur l’ensemble d’un territoire qui compte environ 4,3 millions de Libanais résidents, 300 000 réfugiés palestiniens et 300 000 travailleurs africains et asiatiques. Dans le casa de Zgharta, situé au nord de Beyrouth, les autorités locales évaluent leur nombre à environ 25 000 personnes, soit près de 40% de la population libanaise résidente (une estimation qui semble cependant surévaluée). Une population qui, comme ailleurs, oscille entre hostilité à leur égard – peur de la menace djihadiste, de l’installation définitive, concurrence sur les segments les moins qualifiés du marché du travail – et intérêts – gains générés par le système locatif et par l’embauche d’une main-d’œuvre faiblement rémunérée.

L’objectif de cette étude est de porter le regard sur un espace secondaire où la circulation des travailleurs syriens est ancienne et qui se voit aujourd’hui aux prises avec l’établissement de milliers de réfugiés. Le casa de Zgharta a également la spécificité d’être peuplé par une population très majoritairement chrétienne, dont le niveau de vie reste supérieur aux territoires environnants et dont les principaux leaders locaux sont historiquement alliés avec le régime syrien. Enfin, c’est une région qui, par sa taille modeste, permet de saisir les enjeux qui animent l’installation et la vie quotidienne des réfugiés au regard des spécificités locales.


Une brève présentation du casa de Zgharta

Le casa de Zgharta, situé dans la muhafaza (province) du Liban-Nord, abrite une population estimée à environ 55 000 personnes, principalement de confession chrétienne maronite, pour une superficie d’environ 800 km2. Le casa porte le nom de la ville principale dont la population est évaluée à environ 30 000 personnes, où se concentre l’essentiel des services – établissements scolaires et universitaires, hôpitaux, banques, administration publique, commerces – et des emplois. Si l’on se réfère aux données datant de la fin des années 1990 et du début des années 2000 disponibles dans l’Atlas du Liban. Territoires et Société (Verdeil et al. 2007), on peut constater combien le niveau de vie à Zgharta contraste avec celui des casas voisins du ‘Akkar et de Danniyeh, et de la ville voisine de Tripoli. Alors que ces derniers sont caractérisés par la grande pauvreté (moins de 314 dollars par ménage par mois), notamment dans le ‘Akkar où elle affecte plus de 20% des habitants en 2002, elle reste inférieure à 3% à Zgharta. Des inégalités qui ne se sont a priori pas résorbées depuis.

Située sur la plaine côtière, au milieu des oliveraies et des orangeraies, la ville de Zgharta est flanquée à l’est par les montagnes du Mont Liban. Largement dominée par l’agriculture jusque dans les années 1960, l’économie locale, côtière comme montagnarde, s’est profondément transformée en faveur des services, de la construction et du tourisme. Elle est également fortement soutenue par les remises des émigrés installés, parfois depuis plusieurs générations, en Afrique de l’Ouest, en Australie, en Europe occidentale, dans le Golfe et dans les Amériques. Ces flux financiers ont une incidence directe sur l’économie et sur le paysage puisqu’ils soutiennent le dynamisme du secteur touristique et du bâtiment à travers les constructions de logements privés – immeubles et autres villas luxueuses – et d’édifices religieux en général de taille disproportionnée.


Photographies de villas dans la localité de Mezyara (Assaf Dahdah – 2012)


La circulation ancienne des travailleurs syriens à Zgharta et les conséquences sur les mobilités actuelles

Comme dans le reste du Liban, travailler sur la présence des réfugiés syriens à Zgharta n’est possible qu’en tenant compte de l’histoire des mobilités caractérisée par la circulation ancienne et permanente des travailleurs syriens, hommes célibataires, peu instruits, principalement musulmans sunnites mais aussi alaouites. À Zgharta, ils sont pour la plupart originaires des muhafazat de Homs, Hama et Idlid, et secondairement de Tartous, Latakieh et Rakka. Employés dans les secteurs agricole – récolte des olives et des oranges en hiver dans la plaine, des pommes et des poires dans la montagne en été –, de la construction, de la restauration et de l’entretien, ils constituent une main-d’œuvre à la fois indispensable et déconsidérée (Chalcraft 2009).

Depuis des décennies, ils sont ces ouvriers journaliers qui patientent quotidiennement sur les carrefours routiers dans l’attente d’être recrutés. Circulant entre frères, cousins et/ou amis, et parfois en famille, ils s’installent, le temps d’une saison ou d’un chantier, à l’abri des regards sous des tentes, dans des baraquements de parpaings reculés, dans des constructions inachevées ou s’aménagent un espace sur les chantiers où ils sont employés. Ainsi, dans le langage courant, la figure et la fonction de l’ouvrier journalier se confondent avec sa nationalité : le terme de chaghil (ouvrier) sous-entend de facto un homme de nationalité syrienne ; le terme de soury (Syrien) renvoie à la fonction d’ouvrier journalier non qualifié, sous-payé et discriminé. Cette altérisation, qui peut être envisagée par ailleurs dans un processus de distinction entre deux populations nouvellement indépendantes à la fin des années 1940, n’en reste pas moins l’expression d’une xénophobie et d’un classisme à l’encontre de ces « oiseaux de passage » (Piore 1979) que la population libanaise locale n’a eu de cesse de mépriser. Un mépris et une méfiance qui se sont accrus à la suite de la mise sous tutelle militaire et politique du Liban par le régime syrien (1976-2005) qui s’est traduite localement par la censure, les humiliations, les arrestations arbitraires et les disparitions.

En somme, appréhender les dynamiques et les enjeux de l’installation des réfugiés à la suite du conflit qui déchire la Syrie ne peut faire l’économie d’une prise en compte de ce contexte social, économique, politique et migratoire. L’exil des populations qui ont fui les combats pour rejoindre le Liban et la région de Zgharta en particulier s’est donc structuré sur la base de ces circulations anciennes et toujours actives. Conséquence des combats, de l’enrôlement des hommes par les groupes armés et de l’absence de travail, les migrants saisonniers syriens sont devenus des réfugiés qui n’ont eu d’autres choix que de faire venir leur famille et de se sédentariser. Les conditions d’installation et de vie sont également largement déterminées par l’organisation spatiale du casa – un pôle urbain et le maintien d’espaces agricoles importants – et par la méfiance de la population libanaise à l’égard de ces migrants, certes utiles mais désormais établis. Subséquemment, et conformément à la politique libanaise, les autorités locales refusent l’établissement de campements, poussant ainsi les réfugiés à se loger de façon diffuse dans l’ensemble des localités du casa, à l’exception de Ehden (villégiature estivale) où la Municipalité interdit la présence des Syriens sans raison professionnelle valable ni employeur attitré.


Comment se traduit la présence des réfugiés dans le casa : premiers éléments après un terrain estival

Il est à la fois aisé et compliqué de se rendre compte de l’importance de la présence syrienne dans le casa de Zgharta. Si les réfugiés sont visibles sur les routes où des femmes et des enfants peuvent mendier ou vendre des billets de loterie, depuis les routes puisque des familles logent dans des magasins (makhazine) ou des garages transformés pour l’occasion et qui sont situés au bord de la chaussée, il n’en reste pas moins que, comme évoqué plus haut, leur implantation est discrète parce que contrainte, diffuse et bien souvent en retrait. En effet, à l’instar de bien d’autres municipalités au Liban, les autorités de Zgharta et des villages alentours ont contraint dès 2013 la circulation des réfugiés. Cela se traduit par l’instauration d’un couvre-feu qui interdit aux ressortissants syriens de quitter leur logement entre 20h (18h en hiver) et 6h du matin, et par l’interdiction pour les hommes de stationner sur les routes après 10h s’ils n’ont pas trouvé d’employeur pour la journée. En outre, en raison de la pauvreté et des violences à leur égard, de nombreuses personnes interrogées disent n’avoir ni les moyens ni l’envie de sortir, leur présence dans les espaces publics est donc très limitée.

Dans le cadre de cette mission, il s’est agit de parcourir le casa pour repérer les différents modes d’habiter et formes d’habitat, ainsi que les enjeux sous-jacents à la location et à la coprésence en contexte d’exil. Je me suis donc intéressé aux trajectoires spatiales des familles – anciennes et dans le contexte du conflit – aux conditions d’arrivée et de vie à Zgharta, aux relations avec les propriétaires et le voisinage, avec les institutions locales et internationales comme le HCR, aux difficultés économiques et à la scolarisation des enfants.

Concernant les formes d’habitat et les conditions de vie dans les logements, il en ressort une diversité de situations, dépendant du capital social et économique des personnes interrogées, de l’importance du réseau de connaissances local et de la reconnaissance en lien avec une circulation préalable ou non, et des conséquences physiques, psychologiques et matérielles de la guerre sur les déplacés. Mais au-delà des contrastes, on ne peut que constater la misère qui affecte de nombreuses familles rencontrées et l’insalubrité dans laquelle vivent bien des foyers. Pour autant, les loyers fixés par les propriétaires libanais sont élevés comparés aux ressources des locataires : ils oscillent entre 100 dollars et 300 dollars par mois. L’aide financière du HCR étant insuffisante ou inexistante, cela oblige de nombreux ménages à s’endetter et/ou à demander aux enfants de travailler pour être en mesure de payer le loyer. Dans les secteurs agricoles, il existe également des formes de métayage, le propriétaire employant alors ses locataires en contrepartie du logement. Ce sont d’ailleurs ces secteurs qui ont initialement retenu mon attention.

À Zgharta, dans un secteur gagné par l’urbanisation et dans la périphérie septentrionale de la ville, de nombreuses exploitations agricoles, principalement des élevages de poulets et de bovins, ont été converties en logements pour des réfugiés. Certains exploitants ayant cessé leur activité au début des années 2000 ont profité de l’arrivée des populations déplacées pour transformer a minima les bâtiments et les louer. D’autres, touchés par une crise du secteur agricole accrue depuis le conflit en Syrie, ont décidé d’arrêter ou de réduire leur activité à la faveur de l’arrivée des réfugiés. Des hangars composés de tôle et de parpaings, de 50 mètres de long sur 10 mètres de large, ont ainsi été compartimentés pour héberger parfois jusqu’à 25 familles, soit l’assurance d’une rente locative conséquente pour le propriétaire et d’une promiscuité pour les locataires. Une promiscuité d’autant plus dérangeante lorsque l’on réside avec des étrangers. Enfin, des propriétaires n’ont pas hésité à construire des baraquements rudimentaires pour répondre à la demande croissante et augmenter leurs profits.

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Les exploitations agricoles converties en logements dans l’agglomération de Zgharta (Assaf Dahdah – 2016)

En effet, si certains groupements rassemblent des familles issues d’un même lignage, la majorité est constituée de familles originaires de villages et de régions différents qui doivent cohabiter dans des conditions extrêmement sommaires. En outre, la plupart se plaignent des fuites d’eau à travers des matériaux vieillissants, de la chaleur en été et du froid en hiver, de la présence de rats, de scorpions et de serpents. Le seul point positif relevé par les habitants est l’intervention depuis 2015 de l’ONG Solidarités, nommée lejneh faranssiyeh (comité français), qui réhabilite leur logement par la construction de sanitaires, l’installation d’éviers, de portes et de fenêtres, et l’aménagement d’un système rudimentaire d’évacuation des eaux usées. L’ONG fournit également des matériaux – plaques de tôle et de bois, tuyaux et outils – pour que les habitants soient en mesure de réaliser eux-mêmes des aménagements et des réparations. Ce sont là autant de travaux qui ne sont plus à la charge du propriétaire qui n’a plus qu’à augmenter et à récolter les loyers.

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Sanitaires et cuisine installés par l’ONG Solidarités (Assaf Dahdah – 2016)

Compte-rendu de terrain à Zgharta – été 2016

Assaf Dahdah

Bibliographie :

Chalcraft John 2009, The invisible cage. Syrian migrant workers in Lebanon, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 310 p.
Piore Michael 1979, Birds of Passage : Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 229 p.
Verdeil Eric, Velut Sebastien et Ghaleb Faour 2007, Atlas du Liban. Territoires et société, Beyrouth, IFPO-CNRS Liban, 207 p.