A look into the lives of Afghans who took refuge in Turkey after fleeing the deadly war back home.
ISTANBUL— It is a hot summers day. The heat waves are visible as drips of condensation glisten on cold water bottles sold for $ 0.15 (1 Lira) on every corner.
Men, women and children dressed in a mixture of every day and brightly coloured traditional clothing roam the streets, while the air is buzzing with people chattering away in a mixture of Persian and Turkish in Zeytinburnu, a working-class neighbourhood and the main entry point in Istanbul for Afghan refugees. Zeytinburnu offers affordable housing and suitable job opportunities for the migrant community.
Walking through the busy streets a handsome young man catches my eye. He sits in the doorway of a rug shop and massages the arm of an elder Turkish man as he speaks on the phone. The young man Bilal, 16 years old from the colourful town of Shor-Bazaar, known for its music and art, acknowledges my arrival with a shy smile.
In 1983, during the conflict with the Soviet Union, approximately 4,000 Afghans arrived in Turkey after Turkish authorities initiated the settlement of the refugees who shared "Turkish origin and culture," including people of Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Hazara origins.
Whilst some Afghans settled in eastern cities such as Hatay, Tokat, Sivas, Sanliurfa and the mountains of Van on the border of Iran, others moved to big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul.
Strolling through the local neighbourhood I stumble across a shabby, partially hidden ice cream shop. The cones stacked in the corner of the glass window catch my attention. Hot and tired I push open the door.
The ice cream parlour that Sayed Jamal – an ice cream vendor from Afghanistan’s northern province of Kunduz – worked in was cool; the artificial breeze from air conditioning was a welcome change from the extreme and suffocating heat outside. As Afghan music played in the background Sayed Jamal worked hard, mixing the ice cream continuously until its texture became smooth and creamy.
“Khosh Amadaid” he says, welcoming me warmly in Persian language. He offers me a bowl of handmade Afghan ice cream – sprinkled with pistachios. “It is made with crushed ice, milk, sugar and a pinch of love,” he says with a smile.
“My family has been in the dessert making business for generations,” he says proudly.
A father of four, Sayed Jamal lives alone in Zeytinburnu.
“I came here seven years ago with my family; my hope was to take them to Europe. I saved money for years in order to make this happen. However, after hearing about the difficulties that migrants face I decided against it. It was too risky. I stayed here and sent my family back to Afghanistan.”
Like many others, the goal was to reach Europe, the "promised land". His story is like that of many others who reside in Zeytinburnu – a story of fleeing the Taliban and war-torn Afghanistan.
“I had my own shop back home” he continues, “I sold various appliances. Business was good; but the strong presence of the Taliban in my city affected everything. It all collapsed and I was forced to sell my business and use the money to leave.”
In the first quarter of 2018, 27,000 Afghans were recorded as residing in Turkey, a large number of which are undocumented. There are statistics showing the number has risen by 400 percent in one year.
A day spent in Zeytinburnu can leave anyone in awe of the Afghans – their bravery and hospitality. Despite being forced to flee their homes and leaving behind their loved ones, they exude goodwill.
For me, the Afghans are the people of fierce loyalty, courage and kindness. And meeting them was an experience uncovered in the rich texture of a single bowl of ice cream.