Monday, March 14, 2011


                                         FROM TODAYS  ZAMAN

Government initiative pays off, Turkish Roma say

14 March 2011, Monday


The government’s democratic initiative launched nearly two years ago to address the problems faced by Turkey’s minority communities is bearing fruit, as the country’s Roma population expresses satisfaction with some of the concrete steps taken as part of the project.

There have been great improvements in the problem of housing, one of the most difficult issues faced by Roma, as the state-owned Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) prepares to deliver 6,884 apartments, some of which are still being planned while others are currently under construction, to their new owners, who are members of the Roma community.

State Minister Faruk Çelik, the architect of the project, says the democratic initiative process is proceeding well. “The Roma initiative is on track. First, there was a legal obstacle, but we managed to eliminate it,” he said, referring to discriminatory phrases left in some of Turkey’s older laws, which have now been removed.

“We have rolled up our sleeves to solve the issue of housing and accommodation. We are deciding on land for some of the new houses, and we have already started building some houses. We are also focusing on education and public employment. The process of integration is working well,” he said.

The steps that target the Roma specifically were started a year ago, after a meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and representatives of Turkey’s Roma community. Currently, a number of projects are under way to serve the Roma, who are already more visible in Turkey’ social and political life. Most Roma communities in Turkey are organized as associations, and these groups have openly expressed satisfaction with the government’s policies that seek to address their problems.

Efkan Özçimen, head of the Bursa Association to Promote Roma Culture, says the actual change started following a government workshop on the Roma held in December of last year. He says the Roma, who were earlier leery of government involvement in their lives, are now feeling confident and are more trustful of the project.

“The Roma have always been treated as second class people in state agencies. They were excluded from the country’s social life, for the most part. Access to education in particular was a major problem. But now the government is listening to us and lending its full support for the education of our children,” he adds.

Union of İstanbul Roma Associations Secretary-General Adnan Demirez said they were very happy to have finally found an interlocutor with whom to deal inside the state, in stark contrast with the past, when they were unable to make their voices heard for even the slightest of problems. He also agrees that government workshops on the Roma, in which government representatives and members of the Roma community worked together, have been of great help.

Demirez recounts an anecdote from his own experience that points to the improvements. “A few years ago, there were claims that a Roma died of starvation in Samsun. We traveled there to investigate along with a delegation. When we arrived in the city, we were met by the mayor, the district governor [kaymakam] and many other local officials. They supported us in every step of the investigation and were very helpful in their briefings on the case,” he said.

Fahrettin Savcı, head of the Federation of Trakya Roma Associations, said the change they have been awaiting for a long time has come with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). He said March 14, 2009, the date the first workshop was held to address the Roma community’s problems, attended by the prime minister, had been a turning point.

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