Making a home in Little Syria: Arab Migrants in Istanbul after the Arab Spring
This Ph.D. research explores how Arab migrants produce a sense of belonging in Istanbul’s Little Syria after the Arab Spring (2011-2013). I investigate this question through a cultural and political ethnography of Little Syria conducted from September 2019 to August 2020. Little Syria is a neighborhood in Istanbul with a misleading name. Since the Arab Spring of 2011–13, it has become a hub not only for Syrian refugees, but also for a growing number of migrants from other Arab countries, including Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Iraq. They are opening language schools and providing religion courses in the Arabic language. Grocery shops, cafes and restaurants with menus in Arabic fill the neighborhood. Informal walk-in clinics with Arabic-speaking doctors have been set up in the small alleys of Little Syria for refugees who are not registered with the municipality. A walk down Cumhuriyet Caddesi -- the main boulevard of Little Syria colored with billboards featuring Arabic typography -- could make a wanderer forget they are in Istanbul, a city once the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Against this backdrop, my research examines how Arab migrants in Little Syria create intimate solidarity connections in places that are both near (geographically and culturally) and far (by virtue of different political histories and identities) from their homes. Drawing from geography scholarship on transnationalism and migration, the dissertation is guided by three sets of questions: 1) How have migrants transformed Little Syria into a place of settlement and home? How do Arab migrants negotiate their own place-making practices? What might impede, interrupt or unsettle this negotiation? 2) How do imperial histories permeate migrants’ contemporary experiences of migration and settlement in Little Syria? 3) How does Little Syria specifically, and Istanbul more broadly, play a role as cultural and political nodes in the broader transnational identity-making for Arab migrants after Arab Spring?