Incidents of Theft in Turkey Affect Syrians’ Sense of Security
First-time visitors to Turkey are struck by the number of warnings they receive from long-time residents to “be careful of thieves” and the number of stories about houses burgled in broad daylight. These warnings contradict the appearance of security they see on Turkey’s streets such as jewelry shops displaying jewelry in shop fronts and greengrocers leaving vegetables in front of their shops and only covering them with a bit of cloth. So where do Syrians stand on this issue? And does the apparent security protect them from being victims of theft?
Walid, a computer programmer from the city of Hama, arrived in Turkey two years ago. He described his sense of astonishment at the safety and security he felt when he first arrived. He told us that he continued to feel this sense of security for several months after arriving in Turkey until he was robbed, which caused him to change his mind. He recounted, “I went with my wife to one of the big malls here in the holidays and after two or three hours shopping, we left the mall and were waiting at the bus stop. It was some minutes before I realized that my wallet was not with me and that it must have fallen somewhere in the mall or was stolen.”
Walid returned to the mall and reported the lost wallet to the security guards. She reassured him that one of her colleagues had found a wallet that matched the description Walid gave. He continued, “I thanked God and was happy for the security in this country, and it was only minutes before the security personnel arrived and asked me a few questions about the wallet and its contents to be certain I was the owner. Then he handed it to me.”
Walid checked his wallet quickly to make sure it was his, thanked the employees and then left happily. His happiness did not last long, “I discovered that all the money in the wallet was missing and it only contained my bank and identity cards. Of course, I could not hold the security personnel responsible, as that would be a direct accusation against them but this incident made me reconsider my preconceived ideas about the absolute security in Turkey.”
Walid’s experience is the least serious example of the incidents of robbery Syrians have faced and perhaps one of the least costly. Other Syrians have experienced different incidents from burglars robbing their houses at night and sometimes even during the day, being threatened with a weapon and even being tricked by thieves pretending to be security personnel. Some burglaries have even happened while residents were home.
Mondhir recounted his experience, “I share an apartment with four other guys in Istanbul. We don’t usually carry a lot of money with us as all of us have bank accounts. But this did not save us from being robbed, as we thought it would. We were burgled while we were all in the house. It contradicts the saying that there is safety in numbers.”
Although the apartment is empty during the day as all the young men are out at work, the thief entered at night while everyone was asleep. Mondhir offered an explanation, “We carry our telephones and laptops with us during the day and everything else in the house is not worth stealing so why would a thief come during the day?”
Mondhir and his friends woke up in the morning to find all their electronic equipment gone. Their telephones, laptops and tablets were all stolen in addition to what money they had in the house. He said, “We were surprised that the thief or thieves entered while we were sleeping, then we found out that these types of burglaries are very common and that the thieves use a sedative so they can work at ease.” Mondhir laughed and added, “Of course we reported the theft to the police, but what would a report in a city with 20 million people do? They promised to do their best…”
Omm Mohammad was also robbed but her story is different from Walid’s. “What happened to us is stranger than anything you can imagine”, she began, preparing us for an extraordinary tale. “What was stolen from our house in Hatay is priceless, materially and emotionally, and how we obtained it is a story in itself.”
Omm Mohammad takes us back 18 years to 1998 and to her family’s farm in eastern al-Ghouta. “My children were playing in the dirt when the eldest found a shiny piece. He thought it was a quarter Lira or something similar. When I washed it, I saw that it was gold. It had Surat al-Samad [a chapter of the Qur’an] engraved on it and several other words in Arabic script without dots. By searching in books and encyclopedias we discovered that it was an Islamic Dinar and was hundreds of years old. Its value was in the millions.”
The family held on to the dinar for many years without telling anyone about it, as not handing it to the state is considered a crime according to the al-Assad regime. Omm Mohammad said, “The law forces us to hand it over to the state but we did not, we kept it and told only people close to us about it.”
Syrian law states that whoever finds an archeological artifact must hand it over to the nearest administrative authority within 24 hours. Article six of the law on artifacts dictates, “Ownership of land does not give its owner the right to control over any non-movable or movable artifacts that may be present on the surface or in the ground. The owner of the land does not have the right to dig for the artifacts in the land.”
Years passed and the family took refuge in Turkey after the eldest son Mohammad was martyred at the hands of regime forces. Omm Mohammad said, “Despite everything I left behind, I carried the dinar with me, as it is a valuable memento of my martyred son. We decided to sell it and to give half the money to charity on behalf of my martyred son. With the other half, we wanted to buy a house so we could be done with the anxiety of renting and moving between houses. We consulted my husband’s friend who works in currency exchange and has connections, and he told us that the dinar is worth tens of thousands of US dollars at the lowest estimate.”
Stranger Than Fiction
Towards the end of November 2016, Omm Mohammad entered house in Hatay to find her closet open. She said, “I found my closet wide open and the bag I put my jewelry in was thrown on the bed. I checked it and the only thing missing was the dinar, although there was money and jewelry in the bag. The thief only stole the dinar.”
After getting over the initial shock and searching for the dinar, the family reported the incident to the police who followed their usual protocol of taking fingerprints and questioning the neighbors. Omm Mohammad said, “Our house is on the ground floor and is very easy to get into, but we never felt unsafe so we never thought to take precautions. The thief knows us and knows about the existence of the dinar. He was watching us and took the opportunity to steal what he wanted when he saw us leaving the house to take my daughter to school.”
Omm Mohammad told Enab Baladi that the police confirmed that they are working on their case and that they have questioned suspects, especially after one of the neighbors reported seeing someone leaving their house while they were out. She added, “Of course our suspicion is that it is the currency trader since he is the only one who knew about the dinar and its value, but we could not prove anything. All we can do is pray for God to punish the thief.” Omm Mohammad ended her story by saying, “The story began stranger than fiction and its ending was even stranger.”
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