We often hear about the “Little Armenia,” also known as the “Los Armenos” community, which is located in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. However, two days ago, I was fortunate enough to find a piece of my home, Syria, in the major city of Istanbul, Turkey.
As we were walking in the Fatih district of Istanbul, which is near the Hrant Dink Foundation, where our group was hosted for a day. I immediately noticed a slight change in the atmosphere of the streets. In this conservative, middle-class, and sometimes seedy area of Istanbul’s old city, Arabic started to dominate the conversations on the street, and it was now commonly seen on shop windows and signs. There were also Arabic advertisements for furnished apartments which would appeal to displaced Syrians looking to settle down, while the disturbing orange life jackets hang outside shops for those brave or desperate enough to attempt a crossing to Europe.
Syrian restaurants, cafes and sweet shops from Hama, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo have opened up branches or moved here entirely. There was also a school called “The Nour” which is one of 13 Syrian schools in the neighborhood, providing some 325 students between the ages of five and 18 instruction in math, science, English, and Turkish. Classes are taught in two shifts, one in the morning and one in the evening.
I was shocked to discover that Istanbul hosts more than 400,000 Syrian refugees and most of them are residing in the Fatih district. Syrians have been living in Istanbul for the past five years. However, whoever I had the opportunity to talk to, immediately expressed their dream of returning home… أخ يا وطن