Turkish police on Friday whitewashed the sign of the Somali-owned Saab restaurant in the Kızılay district of Ankara for displaying colors used by Kurdish militants Ankara regards as terrorists, the Serbestiyet news website reported on Friday.
The development was seen by many as harassment of the Turkish capital’s growing Somali community, which has established restaurants, cafes and clothing stores there over the past few years, becoming the target of abuse in a country where anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise.
According to Serbestiyet, police on Friday interrupted the opening ceremony of the restaurant and had most of its sign, excluding the name “Saab,” whitewashed, saying its colors were used by terrorists and were “disturbing.”
The move caused a row between the Çankaya chief of police and opposition lawmaker Mustafa Yeneroğlu from the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), who was attending the opening of the restaurant.
Yeneroğlu told the officer, “You are acting like a racist in the middle of Kızılay. Don’t follow unlawful orders.”
“Can you just shut up? … You’re the one who’s immoral,” the officer replied.
Serbestiyet said the police called the owner of the restaurant late on Friday and told him that the entire sign should be white by morning, otherwise he would be detained.
Following the call, the owner also painted over the part that said “Saab” late at night.
Sharing a photo of the now-white restaurant sign, Yeneroğlu said in a tweet: “Tyranny won again. Those who say, ‘I’m strong, I can crush the weak with brute force, let the law follow me,’ won again. I hope these days will pass, this drunkenness of power will end, and such acts of bullying will end. … But don’t forget that you’ll be remembered for your evil! acts.”
The deputy was addressing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which he was a member before joining DEVA.
Mohamed I. Abdullahı, the owner of Saab, told Serbestiyet that they were opening after obtaining the legally required permits, underlining that the police had “no legal basis” for ordering them to paint over the sign.
“We have been subjected to this [harrassment] for nine months. Other Somalis, those who opened businesses in Çankaya, were driven into bankruptcy by the police. … While making these investments, we didn’t rely on institutions or individuals, we made them relying on the state of law. We hope this policy of demonization ends soon,” he added.
According to a report by the Middle East Eye in October, since Sözcü daily featured Somali businesses in Kızılay in a report under the headline “Ankara’s hub has become Somalia” and put it on the radar of the nation in April 2021, plainclothes policemen started to pay frequent visits to Somali-owned businesses there, making sporadic ID checks and harassing customers.
MEE said police once again visited the shops in Kızılay Square on Sept. 15 and detained a group of Somali business owners, including Abdullahı.
After being held at police headquarters in Ankara for two nights without any explanation, Abdullahı and eight others were taken to a deportation center, where they learned that the Ankara immigration administration had decided to launch a deportation procedure against them, MEE said.
The incident propelled some Somali business owners to quickly sell off their properties, leading to a number of restaurants passing into the hands of Turkish citizens, according to MEE, which added that for those who failed to find buyers to take over their businesses amid a nationwide economic crisis, the only option was to shut down for good.