Monday, March 15, 2010

The Roma Initiative

The AKP government organized a historic event yesterday, bringing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan together with some 10,000 Turkish Roma. From a report about the meeting in Today's Zaman:
Addressing thousands of Roma who came to İstanbul to attend a meeting organized as part of a government initiative to find solutions to problems faced by the ethnic minority, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he sees the Roma's problems as his own.

Erdoğan met with nearly 10,000 Roma yesterday in a meeting with a festive atmosphere, a move that came as a part of the government's democratic initiative, which is intended to expand the rights of previously disadvantaged groups and communities such as the Kurds, the Alevis and the Roma. “As the state, we have shouldered the responsibility on this [Roma] issue. From now on, your problems are my problems. Nobody in this country can be treated as ‘half' a person."

"We cannot tolerate this,” the prime minister said during the speech he delivered at the Roma meeting at İstanbul’s Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall yesterday.
You can read the full article here. From some background on Turkey's Roma community, take a look at this Eurasianet article of mine.

The Roma in Turkey have long faced discrimination in terms of access to housing, employment and education, which makes this very public gesture by the Erdogan government a very welcome and important one. But, as Jenny White points out, one can't help but think about what the relocated residents of Sulukule -- a historical Roma neighborhood in Istanbul's
city that was recently demolished to make way for "luxury villas" -- think about the government's initiative.

For more on Sulukule, take a look at this audio slideshow I made for Eurasianet in the summer of 2008, when the demolition of the neighborhood -- done by the AKP-controlled local municipality -- began.

(photo: A child in Istanbul's Sulukule neighborhood during demolition in 2008. By Yigal Schleifer)

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