Atatürk's Republic

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Posts Tagged ‘law

The Fate of Minorities in Turkey

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The Old Greek Orphanage on Buyukada

Last summer when I visited Buyukada I briefly discussed the confiscation of properties owned by ethnic minorities by the Turkish State.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2010 that confiscated properties must be returned.  Predictably, the Turkish government has made few efforts to ensure the former owners of properties in Turkey are given justice.  In August of last year the Turkish government passed legislation in order to comply with the ruling of the ECHR.  However, the majority of appeals by property owners have been rejected.

The once numerous Christian and Jewish minorities of Turkey have been the victims of discriminatory legislation dating back to the Ottoman Empire.  However, the large-scale exodus of these groups did not occur until the founding of the Turkish Republic.  Turkey and Greece exchanged the bulk of their Christian and Muslim minorities respectively in the early 1920s.  Throughout the 20th century, both countries have been guilty of official discrimination against the small groups of ethno-religious minorities which were allowed to remain.  In the case of Turkey, a series of crushing taxes directed specifically at minorities stripped Jews and Christians alike of their businesses, wealth and property.  Convinced of  the Turkish government’s animosity, many victims of these taxes left to rebuild their lives elsewhere.  Non-citizen Greek minorities, many of whom had family members with full citizenship,were subject to several waves of deportation.  These deportations aimed to force families to emigrate en mass with their non-citizen relatives.  This systematic persecution created the 99% Muslim Turkey we know today.  Outside of the property disputes, the Turkish government continues to show little concern for protecting the few minority enclaves that remain in Turkey.

As I discussed in my last post, Turkey’s Kurdish minority population has also been subject to official persecution at the hands of the state.  However, unlike the Greek, Jewish and Armenian populations in Turkey, Kurds are without the benefits provided by an ethnic nation-state.  However, the conflict in Syria has revitalized the movement for an independent Kurdistan.  Although the prospect of a greater, independent Kurdistan remains somewhat of a pipe-dream, in a post-Assad Syria Kurds could officially gain control over an autonomous region, similar to the situation in Iraq.  The power-vacuum left in the wake of the civil war in Syria has already de facto created a such a region.  A Syrian Kurdish autonomous region would certainly go far in ensuring the rights of Kurds in a post-Assad Syria.  However, Kurdish politics are bound to spill across boarders.  The current situation in Syria has arguably already negatively impacted the Kurdish community in Turkey and contributed to Erdoğan’s recent retreat from his previous support of greater Kurdish cultural rights.

Kurdish Syrians and Iraqis seem satisfied to remain in autonomous regions united to their respective countries for the time being.  However,  if either or both should gain true independence, I fear for the continued existence of the Kurdish community in Turkey.  For the past century, the Turkish government has failed to incorporate its Kurdish citizens into greater Turkey either through integration or autonomy.  If a “homeland” is created for them elsewhere, Kurds may face intense pressure to immigrate.  I do not envision it being as harsh as the cleansing of the Armenians from Anatolia, the Turkish government is far too sophisticated to engage in such open brutality.  However, policies similar to those that helped to drive out members of the Greek and Jewish communities (taxes, property confiscation, etc) could be employed to make life (even more) intolerable for Turkey’s Kurds.  At this point in time, it is hard to predict how the Kurds on both sides of the boarder will fare in the wake of the Syrian civil war.  However, I predict that the more power Syrian Kurds have on regions bordering Turkey, the harder life will become for Turkish Kurds.

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Written by ataturksrepublic

November 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Sokak Hayvanları

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Two children pet a street dog in Bursa

This is old news by now, but I love Turkish street animals (sokak hayvanları) too much to not comment on the controversies surrounding the proposed new animal control bill.  Currently, there are very few regulations regarding stray animals in Turkey.  The primary option available to local municipalities in dealing with their stray animal populations is to catch, spay/neuter and release.  The law forbids the killing or torture of animals, but the vast majority of animal abuse cases go unpunished.  Even if an animal abuser does face prosecution, punishment for such an offense only amounts to a misdemeanor fine, akin to property damage.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that lacking fear of prosecution,  some municipalities have resorted to poisoning street dogs in an effort to reduce their numbers.

Both the government and Turkish animal lovers agree new animal abuse laws and control regulations are desperately needed.  The proposed new regulations would increase punishments for animal abusers, a measure which all parties involved support.  However, the bill also contains a controversial measure for controlling existing populations of street animals.  The bill would create “natural habitat parks” for stray animals, akin to permanent, outdoor animal shelters.  Stray animals would be rounded up and given a home in one of these parks.  Many Turks, especially residents of Istanbul, believe this measure is simply a redux of a 1910 Ottoman urban renewal campaign.  The streets of late Ottoman Istanbul were ruled by packs of street dogs.  In an effort to rid Istanbul of these menacing dogs and modernize (read: Europeanize) the city, Ottoman official rounded up the dogs and stranded them on a desert island in the Marmara Sea.  Mark Twain reported that the pathetic howls of the starving animals kept residents of Istanbul awake at night for numerous days afterward.  Opponents of the bill argue that the parks would amount to animal “concentration camps” and have dubbed the bill “the law of death.”

Protests against the bill were concentrated in Istanbul but broke out in other Turkish cities and towns as well.  Protesting Turks and ex-pats living in Turkey alike voiced the opinion that Turkish street animals are well cared for and cherished by the residents of the neighborhoods which they haunt.  From my observations of the life of Turkish street dogs and cats, I must politely disagree with the rosy picture painted by Finkel and others.  It is true that is very common to see residents feeding street animals, especially cats.  However, accounts of their overall health and well-being are greatly exaggerated.  The vast majority are noticeably underweight and most have some sort of obvious health problem.  Skin conditions dominate but it is not uncommon to see an an animal with an untreated injury or other medical condition.  The quotidian nature of these sights did not make it any easier for me to pass a suffering animal and know there was very little I could do for it.  Nor are Turkish street animals universally beloved.  The majority of non-secular Turks I have met are afraid of dogs.  This fear does not just extend to semi-feral street dogs, but to the tamest of leashed Golden Retrievers.  I once witness a grown man jump a foot straight in the air after he was startled by a puppy.  My experiences lead me to suspect that there is a silent majority of Turks who would be more than happy to see their city rid of street dogs.  Bursa, the fourth largest city in Turkey, successfully implemented a system of animal sanctuaries analogous to the proposed parks.  There are still street animals in Bursa but far fewer per capita than in other cities.  If- and that’s a big if- a system like the one currently in place in Bursa could be implemented, Turkey’s street animals would be much better off.  That said, the proposed legislation is still far from perfect.  It fails to deal with the underlying problems that create populations of strays such as unregulated breading.  Without addressing the root sources of Turkey’s street animal populations there will be no humane solution this centuries-old problem.

Written by ataturksrepublic

October 31, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Posted in animals

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