When I told the students I was taking the weekend off to go to Adana, they first asked me whether it was safe to go east. When you look at a map, Alanya itself appears a bit close for comfort to the Syrian border – Adana is even further east, a mere four hours by car to Kobane, a Kurdish city on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey that has suffered attacks by the Islamic State for two months.
As a result of Syria’s civil war and the Islamic State’s violence, Turkey has taken over one million refugees under it’s wing (and that’s only the official number; many more hundreds of thousands have probably crossed the border and now live in Turkey undocumented). Adana, due to its proximity to the Syrian border, has been supporting a large number of refugees, both in designated refugee camps and large neighborhoods in the city.
I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Adana. Would the city’s refugee situation be visually obvious? Would I feel unsafe walking on the streets? Would I feel that war was only four hours away?
I was a little surprised then to find Adana a bright, clean city with a good vibe – it has this feeling of genuineness and authenticity that Alanya lacks. At the market, people were crowded as per usual – haggling over the price of pajama pants and spices. Old men sat in çayhanes, drinking tea and playing backgammon. Families walked through big green parks. Perhaps this is because we stuck to the “good part of town,” after warnings not to venture into Adana’s Old Town.
We were told not to go there by Yasemin, Rebecca’s host mother. Yasemin told a story about a friend from work being attacked and robbed in broad daylight by a group of Syrian children. She added general commentary about the rise in crime and kötülük, a term meaning “badness,” following the influx of Syrians. “The streets are no longer safe,” she said.
There are two sides to every coin, however.
Turks might say that the streets are unsafe, but there has also been violence aimed against refugees. For instance, in July, a masked group attacked a Syrian-run shop in Adana.
It’s weird, living in a country that, from the outside, appears embroiled in conflict. “No, it’s totally peaceful here; I hear fireworks at night, not bombs. We see none of the conflict,” I tell friends and family who ask about my safety. But even from Alanya, I catch myself shaping an opinion about cities and places based on what I read on the news. So it was eye-opening to visit Adana, a city that I expected to be marked by conflict and war and refugees, and to have had such a normal, peaceful time.