ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ says Turkey shares its Roma brothers and sisters’ problems living in Turkey, but it cannot say the same for the rest of the world. AA photo
Turkey’s interrupted initiative to solve problems faced by its Roma citizens will begin again in the new legislative term with new projects, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said yesterday, speaking at the opening ceremony of the symposium “Turkey’s Roma people 2012 Beyoğlu,” in Istanbul. Controversial urban transformation projects, meanwhile, continue to raise eyebrows among academics and Roma citizens.
“Wherever there is racism, discrimination or extremism, we will fight against it. We have to cooperate with the people and governments of other countries,” Bozdağ said. He said racism
is “a sickness that is spreading in the world.”
State-run property developer TOKİ is slated to build 25,000 new houses for Roma citizens, Bozdağ said. “Some 5,000 houses have already been built, but we hope to raise the number to 25,000. We continue to take the necessary measures for [the Roma community] to live in a healthy environment in a timely manner,” he said.
The Family and Social Policies Ministry has been cooperating in the process, Bozdağ said, adding that it is also supported by non-governmental organizations working with the Roma community. Education and employment are the other primary issues facing the Roma community, and the government is determined to solve those problems, he said.
“We share our Roma brothers and sisters’ problems living in Turkey, but we cannot say the same for the rest of the world. Government-backed policies of discrimination are active in some countries,” Bozdağ said. “We are all subjects of God, we are all human and we do not have any differences or primacy over each other. We have erased all of the expressions in our laws which were troublesome to our Roma citizens. The terms ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Copt’ words have been used to humiliate them since the Ottoman era, but those words have been totally erased from the laws of Turkey.”
Turkey’s Roma community is better integrated, compared to other countries, said an academic from Manchester University, Daniele Viktor Leggio, who was attending the symposium. But, he said, they still face some discrimination in daily life.
“There was this big complaint about relocation. The local administration has a desire to tackle the issue in a positive way,” Leggio said, referring to the recent debates over urban transformation projects in the Istanbul districts of Sulukule and Balat.
A transformation project in Istanbul’s historic and predominantly Roma and Kurdish neighborhood of Balat was canceled by Istanbul’s Fifth Administrative Court on the grounds that it would “harm the cultural pattern in the area” on June 21. After a five-year struggle with the Fatih Municipality, the case was resolved in favor of the locals. Another project, in Fatih’s Sulukule neighborhood, was also stopped by a court after new villas were built in the neighborhood.
A 55-year-old inhabitant of the city’s Kasımpaşa district, who asked to be referred to only by her first name, Sevtap, said she was “afraid of losing her house, like other Roma people have.”
A conference of the Gypsy Lore Society will also be held as part of the four-day symposium.