Racial Penalty and (In)visibility: The Struggle and Survival of African Culture in Ankara, Turkey

Author: Olgu Karan (Başkent University, Turkey)
Speaker: Olgu Karan
Topic: Language Minorities and Majorities
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Turkey is home to some 5.1 million foreigners from different cultures and ethnic communities from 192 countries, according to the migration office. The population of Africans constitute the 5th biggest migrant group, most residing in the capital city of Ankara, Turkey. Africans from various countries, mainly Somalians, own and operate many businesses such as restaurants, cafes, markets, boutiques, hairdressers and barbers on Sümer Street in Kızılay, the city centre of Ankara. The Street has become a commercial and cultural hub with various shops for migrants from Africa to meet one another, where the primary means of communication is the Turkish language.

Setting up shops with storefront signs reflecting the culture and languages of Africa did not take long to fuel the reactionary nationalistic attitudes towards the African community socialising in the region in 2021. Based on the interviews with store owners operating on Sümer Street, this paper argues that African store owners at the heart of Ankara face discrimination and are forced to change the names of their stores and paint signs reflecting African art, identity and culture. As a result, the visibility of African shops in the centre of Ankara province is constrained and penalised; even shop owners are forced to close their businesses and move to the city’s outskirts.

Keywords: Africans in Turkey, discrimination, politics of identity, entrepreneurship