Turkish Election: Roma in Taşlıtarla

Uncle Baki, A Roma Elder in Taşlıtarla

One day if you happenstance upon the Gypsy neighborhood of Taşlıtarla in Istanbul you’ll see huge collection sacks and piles of cardboard. Taşlıtarla is not like in the Turkish movies and television shows where we see every house in a Gypsy neighborhood echoing with music and the gypsies smiling and fighting with each other using sweet slang words.

Whoever you speak with in Taşlıtarla you find people concerned about their lives. Some complain that the other local ethnicity of Taşlıtarla – the Bosnians – refuse to sell their homes to Gypsies. Some are uncomfortable with the rising number of trash sorters in Istanbul, as more sorters limit the amount of money to be made by the Gypsy community.

Many discuss their children’s lack of education. Official Educators state that children should have at least 8 years of education before going into the workplace. However, poverty level Gypsy families believe that it is necessary for their children to work early and help their families survive. Because of this many Gypsy children receive little or no education and begin to work very young.

Besides all of these negative realities the thing which froze my blood on my visit to Taşlıtarla was what Uncle Baki – an elder of this Gypsy neighborhood – told me. Uncle Baki said, “On my father’s identity card he was called a ‘Kıpti.’ This was what the Turkish government – our government – thought of us until 1950. Do you know what ‘Kıpti’ means? It means ‘one without religion’. When we used to die where would they take us to? A church? No of course not! They would take us to a mosque! But we were ‘without religion’?”

The Gypsies were “canonized” recently by Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan (in Prime Minister Erdogan’s May 14th 2010 Roman Açılımı ‘New Page for the Roma’ speech). Besides our Prime Minister mentioning the words of Rumi and creating a slick metaphor about ‘spring’ and ‘new beginnings’ we have not seen any real progress toward helping the large Gypsy population in Turkey.

Have you ever thought why a gypsy does not feel comfortable being called a ‘gypsy’? When I see a Roma who is happy because the government now calls him ‘Roma’ instead of ‘Gypsy’ but besides this tiny name change has seen no form of progress in his life I am reminded of a Kurdish writer for a magazine I edit (Katık Magazine).

The Kurdish writer wrote an article about how the Turkish government now supposes that Kurds are Kurds. Big surprise there. Thanks Turkish government. If the government were to recognize Kurds by another name and the Kurds would be happy about this name change but the government would take no real steps to improve or support the Kurdish community you would have a similar situation with the Gypsies. The government still does nothing for Gypsies, they only call them “Roma.” In contrast Kurds are proud of their ethnic name AND demand political transformation from the Turkish government.

Even though they have experienced prejudice and poverty from rightists, Gypsies still vote in large numbers for rightest racist parties. Before 1950 the ruling party of Turkey was the center-left wing People’s Republican Party (PRP). It was during the PRP’s rule (from 1923 to 1950) that Roma had the insulting ‘without religion’ name on their ID cards.

Today center-left People’s Republican Party is running a strong second in the Turkish National Election (slated for June 12th, 2011) against the front running rightest Justice and Progress Party of Prime Minister Erdogan. Gypsies still remember the actions of the People’s Republican Party from before 1950 and even if Prime Minister Erdogan last year talked a lot of slippery political games to Gypsies while economically stabbing them in the back, Roma still intend to vote in large numbers for Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Progress Party. It is probably too late for this upcoming election but hopefully in the future left leaning politicians will learn better how to connect with Roma/Gypsies like Uncle Baki in places like Taşlıtarla.

This Blog/Article first appeared in the original Turkish on www.dipnot.tv.

Yazar hakkında

Ali Mendillioğlu is a trash sorter, union organizer, writer and editor of Katık Magazine. Katık Magazine highlights the struggles of Turkey's marginalized Trash Sorting Community and other working classes. Mendillioğlu can be reached at ali@istanbulvoices.org or Katik Magazine's facebook page (KATIK/GERİ DÖNÜŞÜM İŞÇİLERİ DERGİSİ).

1 Yorum

  1. Ben söylüyor:

    I’ve always thought that gypsies are a beautiful people…

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