Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey

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Expert Afghan jeweler Khalil Nuri poses for a picture in his shop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, poses for a picture in his workshop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, carves a stone with a drill on April 11, 2019 at his workshop in the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, holds one of his work on his hand at his workshop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2019

Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey

  • Turkey hosts nearly four million refugees, with Syrians making up the largest group, but Afghans number more than 145,000, according to Amnesty International figures released last year

BEYLIKDUZU, Turkey: When Afghan businessman Hajji Yakup Burhan fled the violence of his home country 30 years ago, he brought with him his family — and all his money.
He headed to Saudi Arabia, where he opened a restaurant but, as refugees, his children had difficulty getting into a school. Then he moved to the United Arab Emirates, but Dubai’s costs seemed impossible.
So, two years ago, he moved to Turkey and opened a restaurant in Istanbul’s Esenyurt neighborhood, taking advantage of the country’s relatively open business environment for refugees.
“I have 15 people working for me in this restaurant. They are Afghans, Iranians and Turks.
“I have invested about $120,000 (107,000 euros) in this restaurant so far,” Burhan, 52, told AFP at his Afghan Kebab establishment.
“Over 60 percent of our customers are Afghans living here. The rest are Arabs, Iranians and Turks,” he said.
Afghan refugee entrepreneurs appear to be increasingly finding success in Turkey, where they bring to the local economy, not only their savings, but sought-after know-how, whether in restaurants, commerce or skilled crafts and specialities.
In turn, Turkey offers refugees simplified administrative procedures for setting up a new business.
Turkey hosts nearly four million refugees, with Syrians making up the largest group, but Afghans number more than 145,000, according to Amnesty International figures released last year.
Some people in Turkey view refugees as a burden, but a different picture emerges in Burhan’s bustling Istanbul suburb, where refugees like him have made significant investment in the Turkish economy.

Inside Burhan’s restaurant, a TV blares Afghan channels showing Turkish soap operas over the hum of customers eating the popular Afghan dish Qabeli Palaw — rice with lamb meat and mixed with caramelized carrots, raisins and almond slivers.
“We are the only Afghan restaurant in this neighborhood for now,” he told AFP, sitting cross-legged on a mattress, sipping green tea.
To attract more investment at a time when the Turkish economy was struggling last year, the government in September slashed from $1 million to $250,000 the threshold at which Turkish citizenship is offered to foreigners buying property.
It sparked an 82-percent increase in foreigners buying real estate in the first quarter of this year, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) said.
Afghans likely account for a small percentage of this hike — precise figures are unavailable — but not all those fleeing the war-ravaged country are destitute.
Mehmet Yasin Hamidi, an Afghan who runs the Royalist real-estate agency in Beylikduzu, on Istanbul’s outskirts, told AFP that their sales of homes had doubled this year compared to the same period last year.
“People cannot protect their lives and money in Afghanistan,” Hamidi, who has lots of Afghans among his clients, said.
“If you have money, you or your children could get kidnapped. The businessmen are threatened there. That is why they bring their money here.”

Construction of new housing has exploded in Beylikduzu in recent years to meet a growing demand for real estate investment by foreigners.
The Association of Housing Developers and Investors says that foreigners bought $4.6 billion of Turkish property in 2018 and the figure is expected to jump to $10 billion this year.
Many refugees arriving in Turkey bring with them diverse skills and experience that allow them to make a contribution to the country’s workforce.
Hadi Ekhlas, an engraver from Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic group, left the war-torn nation eight years ago. He first went to neighboring Pakistan to sell his skills.
He then moved to Turkey, where he now engraves Islamic and Ottoman scripts on gemstone rings and semi-precious stones — a skill he learned from his grandfather — in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest covered markets.
“In the past, some Turkish traders would import stones with engravings from other countries, but now I am making them here and taking orders,” Ekhlas told AFP.
Ekhlas has a Turkish partner, who helps him with marketing, and runs one of the 42 Afghan shops in the Grand Bazaar.
“I plan to expand my business in the near future. I’d also like to teach my skills to other Turks here,” he said.
In another corner of the Grand Bazaar, Khalil Nuri, an expert Afghan jeweller, sells rings, necklaces, pendants — just about anything that can be found in Kabul’s many curiosity shops.
“I am a jeweller and an expert in handicrafts and I wanted to continue my profession here,” said Nuri, who fled Afghanistan and has been doing business for the past 12 years in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, Burhan said that he hoped his business continued to do well “because there are a lot of Afghans living here.”
“There are also people who want to give the taste of Afghan cuisine a try.”


Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

Updated 22 November 2019

Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

  • The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement
  • Haydar Mohammed said, “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”

BAGHDAD: The images are both haunting and inspiring, transforming a once dreary, grim underpass into a vivid, colorful wall of art.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” says one painting that depicts a man bursting free from behind bars. “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation,” reads another showing a hand flashing the victory sign over protesters heads.
Some of the messages are less sentimental. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and graffiti that illustrate the country’s tortured past and the Iraq they aspire to.
The tunnel passes under Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people are camped out in a giant sit-in that has taken on the feel of a vibrant mini-city.
Almost daily, clashes erupt with security forces not far away firing tear gas, live rounds and stun grenades to prevent protesters from crossing bridges over the Tigris River to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorcycle transports — often zip back and forth through the Saadoun Tunnel, rushing wounded protesters from the front lines to medical clinics.
Saadoun Tunnel, the tuk tuks, the square and a nearby 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building on the Tigris that protesters took over have all become symbols of what has become the largest grassroots protest movement Iraq has seen. The protests erupted Oct. 1 over longstanding grievances at corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 US invasion and its entire political elite.
Young protesters, men and women, throng the tunnel — actually a long underpass, most of which is open to the air except for enclosed portions directly beneath Tahrir — and pass time there hanging out or taking selfies in front of the murals. Caricatures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians; other paintings praise the tuk tuks; a woman with an Iraqi flag on her cheek flexes her bicep, recreating the famed US “We Can Do It” poster; faces in drawings shout in anger or pain.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students were partly responsible for the murals. They met in Tahrir and saw the tunnels walls were a perfect medium to send a message to those who are suspicious of the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for anti-sectarianism, peace and a free Iraq. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream,” referring to the group of men behind her, some in religious clothes.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet against tear gas with the Arabic words: “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is scrawled, in English, “All What I want is life.”
“Sitting in front of these portraits, people and candles is better than being in any coffeeshop. Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” said Yahya Mohammed, 32, smoking a hookah in the tunnel and observing the scene.
“This tunnel gives me hope.”