Taking the opportunity of the rising number of their fellow nationals living in the Turkish capital, Somali entrepreneurs both earn and contribute to the country’s economy with various shops they opened in the city.
Due to similarities between Turkish and Somali nations, such as religion and cultural values, the number of Somali nationals coming to Turkey, especially from Europe, has been rising in recent years.
Coming to Turkey with purposes of education, health tourism, and investment, their first choice is the Ankara province, which has the highest Somali population in the country, as it offers easier transportation opportunities, besides being the nation’s capital.
Somalis, who especially love to spend time in the central Kizilay square and open various offices and consultancy firms here, feel at home with many Somali restaurants, barbers, markets, and women hairdressers in different streets of the district, especially on the streets of Sumer 1 and Sumer 2.
Somali restaurants on demand
Restaurants that offer a combination of local flavors such as Somali rice with meat, pasta, and samosa — fried pastry filled with beef or chicken — attract great attention from Turkish and African customers, especially Somalis.
Mohammed Isse Abdullah, who is among the entrepreneurs that came to Turkey for education in 2012 and own businesses here, is a partner of two Somali restaurants in Ankara.
Abdullah graduated from Samsun 19 Mayis University with a double major from the Economics and Theology departments and has a master’s degree from Bursa Uludag University.
Stating that they opened the second restaurant on demand after opening the first one, Abdullah said they are planning to open a third restaurant as well.
He said these places have become the gathering centers of Somalis in the capital, and added that they also provide consultancy services to foreigners.
“There are almost 30 Somali workplaces on this street. Be it offices, consulting offices, barbershops, dress shops, and grocery stores.
“We think that this street may become a Somali street next year,” Abdullah said.
‘Community that contributes’
Voicing pleasure to be in Turkey, Abdullah said: “We want to bring both color and value to our beautiful Turkey. We want to keep up with the country we are in and also contribute economically.”
“We are trying to be a community that is not a burden, but one which contributes,” he stressed, adding that they pay their taxes and rents just like other shopkeepers.
Highlighting strong bonds between Mogadishu and Ankara, he said Turkey has been a second home for them since 2012.
“A fraternity bond has been established [between Turkey and Somalia]. … We are trying to maintain this bond,” he said.
A Somali-origin and British national, Rahma, also came to Turkey together with her daughter and opened a shop on Somali-style women’s clothes and cosmetics.
Noting that many Turks ask the reason behind coming to Turkey, Rahma said: “I was in London, I was raised there and I wanted to know about the Turkish culture.”
She said she mainly has Somali customers as they have difficulty in finding their style of clothes in Turkey.
“When I first came here, we couldn’t find many things [clothes] and many of them did not suit us. So I opened this shop to gather everything that I think others may need as well,” she said.
Rahma said they are in good relations with Turkish shop owners and neighbors.
1st Somali supermarket in Ankara
Considering that Somali people who do not speak Turkish have difficulty in communication in grocery shopping, Somali entrepreneurs opened the capital’s first Somali supermarket in March 2020.
Yahya Hasan Abdi, one of the partners of the supermarket, said he came to Turkey in 2012 and studied at Samsun 19 Mayis University and also obtained a master’s degree from another university in the central Eskisehir province.
After working for 1.5 years in his country, he returned to Turkey in 2019 and opened the market in Ankara as the number of Somalis are on rise in the city.
He said 90% of the customers are Somalis and they sell spices, pulses, cow, lamb, and goat meat, as well as cleaning and cosmetic products in the supermarket.
“I have been in Turkey for eight years now. I’ve never experienced or witnessed discrimination in Turkey,” he said.
Barber shops for unique African style
In addition to Somali restaurants, men’s and women’s hair salons making African hairstyles are also very popular among Somalis in the capital.
Hamza Mahmud Muhammed, the owner of the first Somali barber in Ankara — Afro Hairdresser — said they are working with professional barbers coming from Somalia with 20 years of experience in the shop that has been open for over one year.
Muhammed said they also opened a hairdresser for African women living in Ankara about three months ago, and added that they have Turkish customers as well.
“They come for African braids,” he said, and expressed love for Turkey.
Turkish shopkeepers, neighboring Somali shops, are also pleased with the Somali entrepreneurs and customers as they make the street more lively.
Serhat Topuzoglu, a Turkish shopkeeper, said: “We get along well with Somali shopkeepers. We are happy to see them here. They have brought color to our street.”
*Writing by Sena Guler