ANKARA: An Iranian asylum seeker on Wednesday triggered a nationwide row in Turkey after being arrested for hanging out a wet British Union Flag towel on his balcony.
Mohammad Reza, who fled Iran to temporarily live in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri, is facing possible legal proceedings after angry neighbors complained to authorities that his actions were a provocative act.
In a statement, Kayseri governor’s office said a criminal investigation had been launched into the incident.
Local residents in the city cheered as 32-year-old Reza was arrested but he pleaded his innocence saying he was only drying the wet towel and had no other intentions.
It is not the first incident of its kind to take place in the conservative and hardline nationalist Turkish city. In 2008, during the shooting of a documentary based on different civilizations that once thrived in Anatolia, protests erupted when Byzantine flags were flown, resulting in the film’s director having to seek police assistance.
The city, a textile manufacturing hub in the country, employs numerous migrant workers, mostly refugees, in its industrial sectors.
In a follow-up statement, the Kayseri governorship said Reza had not given a second thought to the implications of hanging out the towel displaying the UK’s national flag.
“For people who know the history of Turkey, perhaps not just the incident, but the language used by the government officials is not that surprising”, said Ugur Derin, a Turkish researcher from Netherlands’ Leiden University.
“Turkey has had a negative discourse on non-Turks and non-Muslims, and in that sense, it is telling that the Iranian asylum seeker who hung the British-flag towel is referred to as a ‘foreigner’ in the official statements.
“The idea that foreigners are not reliable is prevalent in Turkey, and an ever-present discourse pointing to the conspiracies of external powers is perhaps a by-product of this mindset,” he told Arab News.
Derin noted that it was also significant that the incident had taken place in Kayseri, a city that had a substantial Armenian and Greek population at the beginning of the 20th century.
“Turkey’s denial of its violent past, notably the Armenian Genocide, undoubtedly plays a role both in the incident, and the language used by the officials,” he added.