An elderly Syrian woman is recovering in hospital after being kicked in the face by a man in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, in the midst of a rising wave of anti-refugee sentiment in the country.
A video, shared widely in Turkey and Syria over the past few days, shows the woman, Leyla Muhammed, attacked while she sat on a bench.
The attacker, named by police as Sakir Cakir, has been arrested on charges of willful injury. The Turkish citizen said he had been told that Muhammed was a kidnapper, according to a statement he gave to police.
The victim is mentally disabled, local news reports indicated.
“The person who beat Leyla has been arrested. She has been admitted to the hospital and her treatment has begun. Together with my wife and colleagues, we visited her and conveyed the wishes of our dear nation for her to get well soon. We stand with the oppressed against the oppressor,” said Gaziantep Governor Davut Gul in a statement on Twitter after visiting the hospital.
Gaziantep is a city of two million people located near the Syrian border, and is also home to nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians, while the number of those seeking refuge in the country from Afghanistan and other nations has also steadily increased.
Polls indicate that the majority of Turkish citizens want the refugees to return to their countries, and one increasingly popular opposition politician, Umit Ozdag, has framed his entire platform on promising to send them back.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed back against that sentiment and has announced that refugees are welcome in Turkey. Erdogan has, however, encouraged resettlement for those who want to return to Syria.
It is a politically risky stance as Turkey’s next elections are due in 2023, and many Turkish citizens hold refugees responsible for the ongoing economic crisis in the country, with the Turkish lira experiencing severe devaluation and inflation reaching alarming rates.
Former Gaziantep parliamentarian Samil Tayyar noted in a tweet that Cakir has an extensive criminal record.
The assault has been condemned by a variety of individuals and organisations on social media.
Many Syrians have taken photos covering one side of their face with their palm, imitating an image of Muhammed after she had been hit.
“It’s a kick in the face of humanity and one of many for us as Syrians. I’m standing in solidarity with the 70-year-old Syrian woman, Leyla, who was kicked in her face yesterday by a racist in Gaziantep, Turkey,” tweeted Syrian journalist Husam Hezaber.
Turkey’s International Refugee Rights Association stated that it was tracking the situation.
“All criminal complaints and court proceedings regarding the attacker will be followed to the very end by the lawyers of our association,” the organisation said on Twitter.
Others highlighted the video as a further example of violence towards women in Turkey.
“The kick launched at the Syrian woman was launched against all of humanity. Every day, thousands of immigrant women are subjected to torture, violence and humiliation. We will absolutely bring to account this racism and this violence,” Turkey’s Women’s Solidarity Committees said.