Turkish police on Friday whitewashed the sign of the Somali-owned Saab restaurant in Ankara’s Kızılay district for displaying the colors used by Kurdish militants Ankara considers terrorists, Turkish Minute reported.
The development was seen by many as a harassment of the Turkish capital’s growing Somali community, which has established restaurants, cafes and clothing stores there in recent years, becoming the target of abuse in a country where anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise.
Police on Friday disrupted the restaurant’s opening ceremony and whitewashed most of its signs except for the “Saab” name, saying its colors were used by terrorists and were “disturbing”.
The move sparked a row between Çankaya’s police chief and opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) MP Mustafa Yeneroğlu, who was attending the restaurant’s opening.
Yeneroğlu told the officer: “You are acting like a racist in the middle of Kızılay. Do not follow illegal orders.
“Can you just shut up? … It is you who are immoral,” the officer replied.
Police called the restaurant owner Friday night and told him the whole sign would have to be white by morning or he would be arrested.
Following the call, the owner also repainted the part that said “Saab” late at night.
Sharing a photo of the now white restaurant sign, Yeneroğlu said in a tweet: “Tyranny has won again. Those who say, “I am strong, I can crush the weak with brute force, let the law follow me”, have won again. I hope these days will pass, that this intoxication of power will end and that such acts of intimidation will end. … But don’t forget that you will be remembered for your misfortune! deeds.”
The MP 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, stressing that the police had “no legal basis” to order them to repaint the panel.
“We were subjected to this [harrassment] for nine months. Other Somalis, those who opened businesses in Çankaya, were pushed out of business by the police. … In making these investments, we did not rely on institutions or individuals, we made them dependent on the rule of law. We hope that this policy of demonization will soon come to an end,” he added.
According to a Middle East Eye report in October, since the daily Sözcü featured Somali businesses in Kızılay in a report under the title “The center of Ankara has become Somalia” and put it on the nation’s radar in April 2021, plainclothes police began making frequent visits to Somali businesses there, carrying out sporadic identity checks and harassing customers.
MEE said police raided shops in Kızılay Square again on September 15 and arrested a group of Somali shopkeepers, including Abdullahı.
After being held at Ankara police headquarters for two nights without any explanation, Abdullahı and eight other people were taken to a deportation center, where they learned that the Ankara immigration administration had decided to initiate deportation proceedings against them, MEE said.
The incident prompted some Somali business owners to quickly sell their properties, resulting in a number of restaurants passing into the hands of Turkish citizens, according to MEE, who added that for those who have not found ‘buyers to resume their business in a national economic crisis, the only option was to close permanently.