Evrim Hikmet Öğüt

Guests or Hosts? An Overview of Syrian Musicians’ Experience in Istanbul’s Tourism Sector


How can “guests” develop a sense of belonging in a new destination? Who or what makes them “guests” instead of “locals” or “hosts”? Or, how long can a community be considered a “guest”? In the 12th year of migration, these rhetorical questions are still highly effective in determining the daily experiences of migrant communities, mainly the Syrian community, in Turkey.

While Syrian communities in Istanbul establish lives, businesses, and civil organizations in the city, they also face increasing discrimination. Furthermore, the discourse shaped by the guest-host dichotomy still dominates the public view about migration. This paper applies Derrida’s (1997) well-known discussion on “hospitality,” which reveals the asymmetrical power relations behind the discourse of hospitality, to give an overview of the professional experience of Syrian musicians in Istanbul.

In the musical experience of Syrian musicians, perhaps the only context where the concept of “hosting” may be applicable is their performances in restaurants and on ferries, targeting tourists from Arabic-speaking countries. However, even in this scenario, their position as hosts is dubious and diverges from the authoritative stance of the host that Derrida highlights. Consequently, this experience of providing hospitality in an environment where they are outsiders can be considered as contributing an additional dimension to the discussion around the concept.

In this paper, I will initially shed light on the pivotal elements that have influenced the migratory journey of the Syrian community in Turkey, particularly under the lens of the hospitality concept. Subsequently, I will examine a particular and largely unexplored musical practice employed by Syrian musicians engaged in Istanbul’s tourism sector.


Evrim Hikmet Öğüt is an Associate Professor in the Ethnomusicology Program at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. Her research interests and publications primarily focus on music in migratory contexts and the intersection of music/sound and politics. In 2020, Öğüt held a Post-Doctoral Scholarship from The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey and a visiting research position at City University of New York, where she conducted research on the Arab music scene. In 2022, she received the Best Article Award from the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) for her article, “The Short History of Syrian Street Music in Istanbul: Challenges and Potentials” published in Music&Minorities.