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Who are the Dom?

The Roma, Dom and Lom communities who are collectively known as gypsies and whose roots go back to India are known in anthropology as “peripatetic societies”. Peripatetic societies are those which do not produce their own food, but get it from other communities in exchange for providing certain arts and services and which are highly mobile by comparison with the other communities (Yılgür, 2016; Kenrick, 2006). For hundreds of years these communities have been supplying various services to settled societies and even to rural migratory communities, constantly on the move, living alongside other societies, and striking a balance between a nomadic and s semi-nomadic life (Kenrick, 2006). According to widely accepted hypotheses, the Dom (later Roma and Lom) Indian migrants who left India and Pakistan for various reasons (such as war or famine) between the 7th and 10th centuries and embarked on the “great walk”, and who have been spreading across the globe for hundreds of years, have been named Gypsies by other societies. The meanings attached to the word Gypsy, which was given to them by others, not by the Gypsies themselves (Fraser, 2005), have resulted in those same other people attaching derogatory connotations to the word, contributing to their exclusion. Recently, due to the negative connotations associated with the word Gypsy, it has been common within the Gypsy community to assert the use of the terms Roma/Romany instead. On the other hand, it is clear that the appellation Roma cannot represent Lom or Dom groups. In recent years, with the new identity building process of the Dom society, the use of the terms Dom has become widespread. The different names of Gypsy tribes (Roma, Lom, Dom) which are still used today have to do with their dates of departure from India, the routes they adopted and the class and caste differences that applied among them there. The Dom are a Domari-speaking community that live in many Middle Eastern countries including Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. They are a specific linguistic group of Indian origin. The Roma (Romany) communities have crossed into Europe via Anatolia and the Black Sea and live in many countries around the world from Russia to the USA, including Turkey. They speak the language known as Romani. Lom communities are communities which currently live in Caucasia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Armenia and eastern and northern parts of Turkey and speak Lomari (Lomavren). Lomari differs from Romani and Domari. The origins of the Lom are very uncertain. However, it is possible that they are a group that “split off” from the Roma in the 11th century and instead of going westwards, remained in the east of Anatolia during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods (Marsh, 2008). The societies with which these groups coexisted gave these dark, dark-haired migratory people who practiced metalwork, basket-making, music, soothsaying and dentistry1 names such as Gypsy, Mitrip, Kipti, Sinti, Zigeuner, Zingari, Tigani and Gitane. In their own languages, these groups called themselves Dom, Rom or Lom within themselves. According to various sources, all three words mean ‘man’, ‘person’ or
1 Dentistry: The dentist Dom group practices folk medicine by pulling out teeth, making (sometimes silver or gold) implants and offering other treatments for teeth. This traditional occupation of many Doms is today banned in Turkey, but is practiced in many Middle Eastern countries.
‘human’ in their own languages (Kenrick, 1993; Kolukırık, 2008). Today, in some regions of India, one of the castes is called Dom. Around the world it has been observed that the migratory lifestyle faces discrimination, and that peripatetic migrants plying crafts and trades are the focus of much greater prejudice than rural migrants who raise cattle or sheep. The story of Abel and Cain contained in the sacred books is an indicator that settled societies’ fear of migratory peoples goes back to the beginning of civilisation (Kenrick, 2006). The way of life and traditions which these communities have upheld over the centuries has led to the emergence of a distinct social memory. The way in which they have managed to tightly control the boundaries between themselves and other societies, and so been able to survive for centuries, should be seen as a great achievement (Kenrick, 2006). They have beliefs rooted in India which posit a strong value system based on purity and corruption. The relationship of members of the community with others (strangers, Gadjo) and the world is based on protecting their purity and cleanliness of the soul. This necessitates maintaining one’s distance from the other and the system created by the other and to remain neutral in the face of evils created by the other’s world. This belief naturally leads to a new way of life and the tradition borne by social memory needs to constantly take in new elements and renew itself. While the community constantly maintains boundaries against the outside world it must necessarily take in other beliefs, languages and music in order to provide them as services to the other after mingling them with its own. Differences have always been jealously protected. Tradition allows for these communities to keep themselves separate from the other – the stranger or Gadjo. This has led to the centuries-old world of two distinct human communities which on the surface live together but have never intertwined. Examples can be found in the specificities of music, dance, belief and profession that characterise Gypsies living in many places around the world today. These arts-and-crafts communities need to target a very large consumer base for the goods and services they provide. Until the early 20th century, the societies that coexisted with the Gypsies were largely migratory themselves. The difference between them and the Gypsies was that while the former migrated for agriculture and husbandry, the latter led a migratory lifestyle to display their goods and offer their services. Actually, the Gypsies’ migratory lifestyle differed most in that they had their “homes on their backs”. In recent years, a series of calls have been issued to international organisations and national governments to take positive measures to protect the settlement rights and improve the housing conditions of the Roma/Gypsy communities under their responsibility. In 2000, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted General Recommendation No. 27 on “Discrimination Against Roma”. The fourth section of this recommendation specifically concerned improvements to the living conditions of Roma/Gypsy groups. In 2003, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) adopted an Action Plan for Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area. This includes special advice on the housing and living conditions of the Roma. In 2005 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted recommendation Rec(2005)4 calling for improvements in the housing conditions of the Roma and migratory peoples. Similarly, a decision of the European Parliament on the Roma called on EU member states to to put an end to ghettos and discrimination in housing and support the Roma in finding alternative, healthy homes. Gypsies, who have faced exclusion and discrimination at the hands of the other societies they have lived with, led a semi-nomadic lifestyle throughout the 20th century in order to survive and above all to continue their traditional arts and crafts. As the development of industry and means of production limited the opportunities for them to practice their arts and crafts in cities, they either took up different occupations in urban areas or travelled between small towns and rural areas to continue practicing their traditional arts and crafts. Peripatetic communities have made tools and kitchenware and practiced iron and tin work, basketry, harness and tackle making, tanning, dentistry, circumcision and music services to meet the needs of settled or migratory societies engaged in agriculture or husbandry. With the development of capitalist forms of production and the changes in population structure, the validity and fields of application of these traditional occupations have declined. Especially over the last century, the social ramifications of the rapid change in relations of production, urbanisation and population growth have pushed these communities to the bottom of the social structure. The minority policies of countries implemented in the transformation to nation states have exposed Gypsies to problems such as poverty, prejudice, discrimination and violence over and beyond their historical and cultural precedents.