The Pakistani expatriates in Turkey earned bad vibes this month for negative reasons. Thirty of them were detained for protesting the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Although Khan is ‘friends’ with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the authorities were not amused by the street support for Khan in Istanbul and Ankara.
This showed the transactional nature of the relationship, although Khan had hosted Erdogan during his tenure. The two had resolved to work for the “welfare of the Muslim Ummah and Erdogan had dittoed Pakistan’s stand on many regional and global issues, including the Kashmir dispute with India, undoing much of the goodwill he had gathered during an earlier India visit.
The reason for Pakistanis being criticized is bizarre. A Pakistani national, identified as Junaid R was caught photographing, unauthorized and on the sly, Turkish women and posting their pictures on social media.
On April 13, the Turkish YenSafak Video showed the police catching a person by the scruff, taking him out of his hideout in Eyupsultan, Istanbul, and roughly pushing him into a police vehicle.
This generated anti-Pakistan sentiments on Turkish social media with the netizen demanding the Pakistanis be expelled. Anti-Pakistani sentiments on social media were one of the top trends on April 13 and were seen trending in Turkish cities till April 15.
The Pakistani Consulate in Istanbul on April 14, 2022, issued an advisory for Pakistani nationals on the WhatsApp group. The message read that ”due to recent incidents (Pakistani man’s recording of Turkish women on streets and publish them in platforms such as TikTok or Instagram) a wave of sentiment against Pakistani migrants is rising in Turkey. So please be careful these days. Even if you take a pic of a scenery, mosque, flowers, be extra careful not to be misunderstood.”
The Urdu head of Turkish Radio-Television Corporation (TRT), Furqan Hameed, a Pakistani himself, chipped in to calm the anti-Pakistan sentiments trending on social media.
However, adding fuel to the fire as it were, Hameed wrote that he was aware that the “frustration of Turkish youth due to unemployment and other problems” was indicated every day on Twitter and “sometimes their biased behaviour towards foreigners was also common.” His adverse comments on the Turkish youth did not go well with the netizens. He further wrote, ”We know the cultural differences between our societies but we need to educate our circles in our capacity who is visiting Turkey as tourist, about the Turkish culture and society. Commenting on some foreign culture is something else and doing such activities is another thing. Our image in foreign countries is always presented by us.”
Hameed claimed that the Pakistani students “have always portrayed a positive image of Pakistan in educational circles through their hard work.”
Hameed is right on the way Pakistanis, in general, disapprove of the Turkish lifestyle, especially the way Turkish women behave in public. This has become more pronounced in the last two years since in 2020, Erdogan and Imran Khan jointly promoted the Turkish television series, “Ertrugrul: The Renaissance.”
Pakistanis have admiringly watched the serial, but many strongly feel that the women characters, seen as traditional and virtuous on the television, should be so in their private lives as well. Forgetting the difference between entertainment and reality, Pakistani social media has been awash with men advising, angrily scolding, even abusing, Turkish women actors asking them to ‘respect’ Islam.
The number of expatriates is only 550. Much of the trouble comes from the large floating population of illegal migrants. The Turkish authorities expelled as many as 12,000 in 2019, Pakistani newspaper The News International said on February 2, 2020, in a report that Pakistanis and Afghans who arrive illegally by land route via Iran, use Turkey as “gateway to Europe.”
Following the Junaid incident, the chairman of Victory Party (Zafer Partisi- ZAFER) a right-wing, anti-refugee, Kemalist political party in Turkey, Umit Ozdag, on April 15 made a scathing attack saying that Pakistani and Afghan men in Turkey took videos of women and sent them to their country asking men to come and enjoy.
Ozdag said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Government has turned Turkey into the world’s amusement park.