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  • Seçil Dağtaş (a1)


This article examines the figure of the misafir (guest) as it personifies the combined domains of everyday and institutional hospitality in Hatay, a contested border province annexed to Turkey from French Mandate Syria in 1939, and home today to over 400,000 displaced Syrians. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2010 and 2012 in Hatay's administrative capital, Antakya, I focus on the perspectives of the region's bilingual (Turkish-Arabic) Jewish and Christian populations about the official misafir status of the first Syrian arrivals. I argue that the sudden transformation of Syrians from familial misafirs to governmental misafirs in the early days of the Syrian conflict ruptured the hierarchical domains of reciprocity that have historically shaped the cross-border relations between these communities. In this process, Antakya's religious minorities recognized and negotiated the limits of their own residence, difference, and citizenship in Turkey, and invoked the lived practices of hospitality that exist beside but also transcend ethnoreligious and national identities. By examining how historical articulations of religious and national difference along the Turkish–Syrian border are entwined with the figure of the misafir at the interpersonal level, this article contributes to debates on hospitality in scholarship on the Middle East and in migration literature.



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Author's note: For comments on previous drafts of this paper, I thank Janice Boddy, Amira Mittermaier, Michael Lambek, Esra Özyürek, and the participants of the University of Toronto Dissertation Writing Workshop. I am also grateful to the IJMES editors and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions and encouragement. The research and writing for this study were supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Connaught International Scholarship. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of these persons or agencies.

1 All the names of research participants mentioned in this article are pseudonyms and all translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

2 Located at the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, Hatay was annexed from French Mandate Syria in 1939 and constitutes Turkey's southwest border with Syria.

3 The smuggling of cheap Syrian goods such as gas, cigarettes, and coffee, which was fairly commonplace at the time, represents one of the myriad modes of human connection in the cross-border area prior to the Syrian conflict.

4 Zeynep Erdim, “Hatay’ın İstenmeyen ‘Misafir'leri,” Bianet-Bağımsız İletişim Ağı, 7 March 2011, accessed 9 April 2016,; Şenay Özden, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey,” MPC Research Report, European University Institute and Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies, Florence, 2013; Deniz Zeyrek, “Hatay'lılara Misafir Uyarısı,” Radikal, 27 August 2011.

5 “Davutoğlu: Suriyelileri Misafir Olarak Görüyoruz,” Milliyet, 24 June 2011.

6 “Suriye'deki Olaylar -Hatay'da 252 Suriye'li Misafir Ediliyor,” Hatay Gazetesi, 3 May 2011.

7 Currently, Erdoğan is the president of Turkey.

8 “Non-European” asylum seekers in Antakya are held in a foreigner removal center tied to the Turkish Police Department, which at the time of my fieldwork held people from Burma, Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan, but no one from Syria.

9 Sarah Biehl, Kristen, “Governing through Uncertainty: Experiences of Being a Refugee in Turkey as a Country for Temporary Asylum,” Social Analysis 59 (2015): 65 .

10 Oktay Durukan, “Asylum Information Database (AIDA) Country Report: Turkey,” European Council of Refugees and Exiles, Brussels, 2015, 15–16. A current exception to this arrangement is a small number of cases in which UNHCR Turkey processes the resettlement of Syrian refugees for protection reasons. Ibid., 105.

11 For the treatment of Syrians until 2014, the Turkish authorities extended the 1994 Asylum Directive that considered situations of “mass influx” outside the regular international protection procedure. Kemal Kirişci, “Syrian Refugees and Turkey's Challenges: Going Beyond Hospitality,” Brookings Institute, Washington, D.C., 2014, 14.

12 Durukan, “AIDA Report: Turkey,” 9, 104–5.

13 In contrast to the Ottoman Empire, which granted asylum to a wide range of non-Muslim and non-Turkish communities, Turkey to this day has publicly emphasized Turkish language and ethnic affiliation in its immigration policies and, despite its silence in respect to religion, has preferred immigrants with Sunni and Hanefi backgrounds. See Kirişci, Kemal, “Disaggregating Turkish Citizenship and Immigration Practices,” Middle Eastern Studies 36 (2000): 3 ; and Parla, Ayşe, “Irregular Workers or Ethnic Kin? Post-1990s Labour Migration from Bulgaria to Turkey,” International Migration 45 (2007): 157–81. This ideology was also reflected in Turkey's refugee policies until 2011, when only forty-three refugees of Muslim background were accepted from Greece, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Serbia-Montenegro, and Albania; Mehmet Foca, “Turkey Sticks to ‘Limited’ Application of the Geneva Convention,” Bianet-Bagimsiz Iletisim Agi, 2011, accessed 10 October 2016,

14 In 1988 Iraqi Kurds fleeing the Halabja massacre were housed as “guests” in southeastern Turkey without any formal protection; Kirişci, “Syrian Refugees and Turkey's Challenges,” 7. Furthermore, immigration detention centers in Turkey were called “foreigners’ guesthouses” (yabancılar misafirhanesi) until the Ministry of Interior renamed them “removal centers” (geri gönderme merkezleri) in 2011 due to the pressure of international humanitarian organizations; Levitan, Rachel, Kaytaz, Esra, and Durukan, Oktay, “Unwelcome Guests: The Detention of Refugees in Turkey's ‘Foreigners’ Guesthouses,’” Refuge 26 (2009): 7791 .

15 Feyzi Baban, Suzan Ilcan, and Kim Rygiel, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: The EU–Turkey ‘Deal’ and Temporary Protection,” Global Social Policy 16 (2017); “Erdoğan Offers Citizenship to Syrian and Iraqi Refugees,” Aljazeera, 7 January 2017, accessed 13 June 2017,

16 Shryock, Andrew, “Breaking Hospitality Apart: Bad Hosts, Bad Guests, and the Problem of Sovereignty,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): S20S33 .

17 As such, misafir differs also from muhacir (Arab. muhājir), a term that has been used in different Muslim-majority contexts to describe emigrants of Muslim background, connoting the hijra (migration) of Prophet Muhammad and his followers to Madina.

18 Safia (retired teacher), interview with the author, Leban Café, Antakya, Turkey, June 2011.

19 In March 2015 Turkey closed its official border-crossing points with Syria to Syrian refugees, decelerating the sudden demographic fluctuations in the region. According to DGMM statistics and my contacts in humanitarian aid organizations in Antakya, as of March 2017 Hatay is among the five provinces with the largest Syrian population in Turkey, with 20,000 refugees registered in five camps and an estimated 400,000 residing in its towns and villages; UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response, 2017, accessed 27 May 2017, The statistics provided here for Antakya are not definite but draw on household numbers (16,000 multiplied by 5.2—the estimated average of individuals in a given Syrian household) available to these organizations through the muhtars (the village/neighborhood representatives) with whom Syrian newcomers must register to access public services within Turkey.

20 In response to my question about the significantly lower rate that he received for doing the same job as locals, the Syrian construction worker Ahmad remarked, “Of course [Antakyans] are paid better. They are permanents. We are only misafirs.”

21 Can, Şule, “The Syrian Civil War, Sectarianism and Political Change at the Turkish–Syrian Border,” Social Anthropology 25 (2017): 174–89. On Alawis, Hatay's, see also Jens Kreinath, “Virtual Encounters with Hizir and Other Muslim Saints: Dreaming and Healing at Local Pilgrimage Sites in Hatay,” Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Asia 2 (2014): 2566 .

22 Compare, for instance, the accounts analyzed below with the remarks of a Sunni interlocutor in 2016: “We do not want Syrians here. Yes, their situation is very sad, and I hope God never puts anyone through this. But the state should support them in the camps away from the towns. I do not want Syrians inside my community or before my eyes, speaking Arabic and all.”

23 In Learning How to Ask (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), Charles Briggs describes the “social situation” of an interview as encompassing the social roles and interactional goals between researcher and respondent, along with the content and form of the transmitted message.

24 For example, Benhabib, Şeyla, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 26.

25 Derrida, Jacques, Of Hospitality (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000).

26 Khosravi, Shahram, “Illegal” Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 126 .

27 Derrida, Of Hospitality, 45.

28 For law, see Khosravi, “Illegal” Traveller; and Willen, Sarah, “Toward a Critical Phenomenology of ‘Illegality’: State Power, Criminalization, and Abjectivity among Undocumented Migrant Workers in Tel Aviv, Israel,” International Migration 45 (2007): 838 . For spatial containment, see De Genova, Nicholas, Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and “Illegality” in Mexican Chicago (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005); and Malkki, Liisa, Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). For regulation of time, see Andersson, Ruben, “Time and the Migrant Other: European Border Controls and the Temporal Economics of Illegality,” American Anthropologist 116 (2014): 795809 ; and Griffiths, Melanie, “Out of Time: The Temporal Uncertainties of Refused Asylum Seekers and Immigration Detainees,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40 (2014): 19912009 . For uncertainty, see Biehl, “Governing through Uncertainty.” For dispossession, see Chatty, Dawn, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). For border security, see Fassin, Didier, “Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries: The Governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times,” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 213–26.

29 Herzfeld, Michael, “‘As in Your Own House’: Hospitality, Ethnography, and the Stereotype of Mediterranean Society,” in Honor and Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean (Special Publication No. 22), ed. Gilmore, D.D. (Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1987), 7589 ; Pitt-Rivers, Julian, The Fate of Shechem: Or, The Politics of Sex: Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Rabinowitz, Dan, Overlooking Nazareth: The Ethnography of Exclusion in Galilee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Shryock, Andrew, “The New Jordanian Hospitality: House, Host, and Guest in the Culture of Public Display,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2004): 3562 .

30 Vom Bruck, Gabriele, “A House Turned Inside Out: Inhabiting Space in a Yemeni City,” Journal of Material Culture 2 (1997): 139–72.

31 Rabinowitz, Overlooking Nazareth.

32 Meneley, Anne, Tournaments of Value: Sociability and Hierarchy in a Yemeni Town (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).

33 Shryock, Andrew, “Hospitality Lessons: Learning the Shared Language of Derrida and the Balga Bedouin,” Paragraph 32 (2009): 3250 .

34 Aswad, Barbara, “Visiting Patterns among Women of the Elite in a Small Turkish City,” Anthropological Quarterly 47 (1974): 927 .

35 Salamandra, Christa, A New Old Damascus: Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria (Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004), 58 .

36 Rosello, Mireille, Postcolonial Hospitality: The Immigrant as Guest (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001); Rozakou, Katerina, “The Biopolitics of Hospitality in Greece: Humanitarianism and the Management of Refugees,” American Ethnologist 39 (2012): 562–77.

37 For a recent exception, see Zaman, Tahir, Islamic Traditions of Refuge in the Crises of Iraq and Syria (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

38 Sanjian, Avedis K., “The Sanjak of Alexandretta (Hatay): Its Impact on Turkish–Syrian Relations (1939–1956),” Middle East Journal 10 (1956): 379–94.

39 Doğruel, Fulya and Leman, Johan, “‘Conduct’ and ‘Counter-Conduct’ on the Southern Border of Turkey: Multicultural Antakya,” Middle Eastern Studies 45 (2009): 595 .

40 Bazantay, Pierre, La pénétration de penseignement dans le sandjak autonome d'Alexandrette (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 1935).

41 Shields, Sarah, Fezzes in the River: Identity Politics and European Diplomacy in the Middle East on the Eve of World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 19 .

42 Satloff, Robert, “Prelude to Conflict: Communal Interdependence in the Sanjak of Alexandretta 1920-1936,” Middle Eastern Studies 22 (1986): 147 .

43 Sanjian, “The Sanjak of Alexandretta (Hatay),” 39. According to the Turkish History Thesis, which was influential in nation-building projects of the 1930s, Hittites were among the Turkic tribes who migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia. Renaming the sanjak as Hatay was an attempt to stress the Turkic origins of the region and to insert Turkish culture into the chain of historical continuity constructed among European, Anatolian, and Mesopotamian civilizations.

44 Mahmood, Saba, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015).

45 Shields, Fezzes in the River.

46 Micallef, Roberta, “Hatay Joins the Motherland,” in State Frontiers: Borders and Boundaries in the Middle East, ed. Brandell, Inga (London: I.B.Tauris, 2006), 141 .

47 Brandell, Inga, State Frontiers: Borders and Boundaries in the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris, 2006).

48 Chatty, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East; Ekmekcioğlu, Lerna, Recovering Armenia: The Limits of Belonging in Post-Genocide Turkey (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016); Finney, Patrick, “‘An Evil for All Concerned’: Great Britain and Minority Protection after 1919,” Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995): 533–51; Muge Gocek, Fatma, Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789–2009 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Mahmood, Religious Difference in a Secular Age; Mazower, Mark, “Minorities and the League of Nations in Interwar Europe,” Daedalus 126 (1997): 4763 .

49 Vakıflı, the only Armenian village that chose to stay, is today Turkey's only remaining ethnic Armenian village and is located in the mountains of Samandağ thirty kilometers west of Antakya. One of the two Syrian nationals whom I met in Vakıflı in 2016 was of Armenian origin. He described his escape to Samandağ over the sea behind Mount Kılıç as the reversal of the route his ancestors took to escape the genocide.

50 Pekesen, Berna, “The Exodus of Armenians from the Sanjak of Alexandratta in the 1930s,” in Turkey Beyond Nationalism: Towards Post-Nationalist Identities, ed. Kieser, Hans-Lukas (London: I.B.Tauris, 2006), 63 .

51 There is no publicly available data on the number of these populations. My estimates are based on my interviews with the heads of the Jewish and Orthodox Foundations as well as informal conversations with members of these communities.

52 Martin Stokes, “Imagining ‘the South’: Hybridity, Heterotopias and Arabesk on the Turkish–Syrian Border,” in Border Identities: Nation and State at International Frontiers, ed. Wilson, Thomas M. and Donnan, Hastings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 263303 .

53 What Salma referred to is the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, at which the United States pressured Syria to ease restrictions on its Jewish population. Thousands of Syrian Jews from Damascus and Aleppo were thereafter granted exit permits on condition that they emigrate, though not to Israel. See Quilliam, Neil, Syria and the New World Order (Berkshire: Garnet & Ithaca Press, 1999).

54 In the following years, the guesthouses of Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical churches in Hatay were indeed used to accommodate displaced Syrians who were mostly but not exclusively of Christian origin.

55 Jacob (tourism agent), discussion with the author, respondent's office, June 2017.

56 For an extensive discussion on how ideas of “roots” played out in the Middle East, see Chatty, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East, 23–26.

57 Sinan, interview with the author, Affan Kahvesi, Antaka, Turkey, July 2011.

58 For example, Ekmekcioğlu, Lerna, “Republic of Paradox: The League of Nations, Minority Protection Regime and the New Turkey's Step-Citizens,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46 (2014): 657–79; Finney, “‘An Evil for All Concerned’”; Mazower, “Minorities and the League of Nations in Interwar Europe”; and Weitz, Eric D., “From the Vienna to the Paris System: International Politics and the Entangled Histories of Human Rights, Forced Deportations, and Civilizing Missions,” The American Historical Review 113 (2008): 1313–43.

59 Baer, Marc, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010); Chatty, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East, 27; Mahmood, Religious Difference in a Secular Age; Neyzi, Leyla, “Fragmented in Space: The Oral History Narrative of an Arab Christian from Antioch, Turkey,” Global Networks 4 (2004): 285–97.

60 Confirming such concerns, in 2013 Hatay's Reyhanlı district near the border became the site of a terrorist attack in which two car bombs killed more than fifty people. Turkey blamed the Syrian regime for the attacks, while the Syrian regime blamed the opposition forces that it alleges are backed by Turkey. My interlocutors in Antakya believed the latter explanation. In 2014, the national newspaper, Cumhuriyet, published evidence for the involvement of the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey in arms deliveries to the Syrian rebels, leading to the arrest of its two editors. Can, “The Syrian Civil War,” 179.

61 Yusuf Kanli, “Syria as Turkey's Domestic Issue,” Hurriyet Daily News, 15 May 2011.

62 Yeşim, interview with the author, respondent's home, Antakya, Turkey, June 2011.

63 Kenan Butakin, “‘Karanlık’ Misafirler!: Hatay'da Neler Oluyor? Kim Bunlar?,” Vatan Gazetesi, 24 August 2012; Omer Sahin, “Hatay ‘Huzursuz’ Ama ‘Insanlik’ Ayakta,” Radikal Gazetesi, 30 August 2012.

64 Shryock, “Breaking Hospitality Apart,” S27.

65 For other anthropological accounts of parasitic guests, see Da Col, Giovanni, “The Poisoner and the Parasite: Cosmoeconomics, Fear, and Hospitality among Dechen Tibetans,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): S175S195 ; Delaplace, Grégory, “Chinese, Parasitic, Vengeful Russians: Ghosts, Strangers, and Reciprocity in Mongolia,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): S131–S144; and Kelly, Annh, “The Experimental Hut: Hosting Vectors,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): S145–S160. Whereas Delaplace examines Mongolian stories of haunting by ghosts, which portray Chinese people as parasites who refuse to reciprocate, Col and Kelly approach the figure of the parasite more in terms of the anxieties created by the relationships between human and nonhuman beings in, respectively, Dechen Tibetan and Tanzanian hospitalities.

66 Ferit (farmer), interview with the author, respondent's home, Antakya, Turkey, June 2016.

67 Yasmin (housewife), interview with the author, respondent's home, Antakya, Turkey, June 2016.

68 Chatty, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East.

69 Derrida, Of Hospitality, 23.

70 Rabinowitz, Overlooking Nazareth.

71 Shryock, “Breaking Hospitality Apart,” S23.

72 Herzfeld, “‘As in Your Own House,’” 76, cited in Candea, Matei, “Derrida En Corse? Hospitality as Scale-Free Abstraction,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): S34S48, S43.

73 Candea, “Derrida En Corse?.”

74 Rosello, Postcolonial Hospitality, 13, cited in “Derrida En Corse?,” S43. See also Shryock, Andrew, “Thinking about Hospitality, with Derrida, Kant and the Balga Bedouin,” Anthropos 103 (2008): 405–21.

75 Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality,” 57.


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