Syrian refugee fights Turkish order to take down Arabic signs on his restaurants

A Syrian refugee, who has built a restaurant chain in five years, has been ordered by local government to remove all Arabic signage from his eateries in Istanbul.

Mohammed Nizar Bitar is fighting a local government order to remove all Arabic signs from his restaurants in Istanbul’s “Little Syria” area.

The Fatih district municipality sent a notice to businesses in the Yusufpasa area last year to remove all signage not in the Latin alphabet, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

Fatih municipality stated it was acting on a national edict from the government’s cultural heritage protection institute to “protect cultural values.”

“We registered our brand and logo. We have nine branches now. We opened our restaurant in Yusufpasa four years ago. We were the first to put up a sign in Arabic. No one said anything then,” Mr Bitar was quoted as saying.

The restaurant’s logo is a fez with the Arabic word for it, Tarbus, written underneath.

The signage also has Turkish and Arabic writing that says “Ottoman cuisine from Syria”.

The Fatih municipality asked for the case against it to be thrown out since the cultural institute operated under the government’s Ministry of Culture.

Bitar said he would lose the majority of his business if the Arabic signage was removed.

Mr Bitar said: “Many Syrian restaurants removed their signage after the directive but they lost many customers.

“Most Arabs don’t speak Turkish. I will lose 70 percent of my custom if I remove the Arabic signage. That is why I launched a court case.”

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Turkey hosts around three million Syrian refugees and has received international praise for opening its borders to Syrians during the early years of the conflict.

The Syrians, however, are not given refugee status but are referred to as “guests”.

This leaves them reliant on the goodwill of Turkish authorities since they are deprived of international rights and protection guaranteed for refugees.

The Turkish government began the process of granting Turkish citizenship to skilled white collar Syrian refugees earlier this year.

About 300,000 Syrians will eventually be granted Turkish citizenship, according to government officials.

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