Studies of Gypsy communities in Turkey have shown that these communities are of Indian origin. They left India after the 9th century and some came to Anatolia following various migration routes. The Sulukule neighbourhood in Istanbul, which was completely demolished in 2009 as part of an urban transformation scheme, had housed these groups since the time of the Byzantine Empire. Sulukule is the second oldest recorded settlement of the Roma in the world. Gypsies who live in Turkey fall into three groups: the Roma, the Dom and the Lom. The Dom generally live in southern and eastern Anatolia and speak Domari, the Lom live in the north eastern Black Sea region and speak Lomari. Gypsies in other parts of Anatolia, especially the Mediterranean, Thrace and Aegean regions, are known as the Roma.
There is no official data on the total number of Gypsies in Turkey. The number of Roma, Dom and Lom is still an area of research. The only official data on the number of Gypsies in Turkey is 500,000, which is based on an Ottoman census of 1831. Roma and other NGOs claim that the Gypsy population in Turkey numbers between 3 and 5 million. Experts from the European Roma Rights Association (ERRC), the Helsinki Citizens Association (HCA) and the Edirne Roma Association (EDROM) who took part in a study covering cities in all seven geographical regions of Turkey have estimated the Gypsy population to be between 4.5 and 5 million. The Council of Europe’s Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) estimated that the Roma made up 3.83 per cent of Turkey’s population of 71,892,807 in 2010. The Roma are concentrated especially in the province of Edirne. They also live in Ankara, Samsun, Tekirdağ, Kırklareli, Mersin, Adana, Izmir, Balıkesir, Keşan, Söke, Çorlu, Hatay, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakir and Istanbul. Doms are concentrated in the provinces of Hatay, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, while the Lom community is concentrated in the province of Sinop.
The Roma are one of the most numerous ethnic groups in the cultural structure of Turkey and have established more than 300 associations and more than 10 federations. They have difficult accessing public bodies to voice their demands in the areas of basic socio-economic rights such as education, employment, healthcare, shelter and discrimination. A Roma Workshop organised by the State Ministry on December 10th 2009 was attended by representatives of five federations and 80 Roma associations, and the workshop report noted the demands of their representatives for the suspension of discriminatory laws against them and improvements in their rights to shelter, education, employment, healthcare and citizenship.2 Following the government’s “Roma opening”, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security held meetings in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir in 2011-2012 and prepared reports on the situation of the Roma with respect to employment and education respectively.3 In the light of these reports, the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies was in 2012 made responsible for the rights of the Roma and the services to be provided to them, as part of the government’s “democratic opening” process. The 2016 Action Plan of the 64th Government made public on December 10th 2015 contained the following pledge regarding the Roma, under the heading of “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms”:
“The alleviation of the problems of Roma citizens, especially in education, employment and housing, will be accelerated, and work will begin on removing all grounds for discrimination.”
In 2011 the European Union adopted the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Policies aimed at eliminating the discrepancies between the living conditions of the majority population and the Roma and integrating the latter more fully4 and called on member states to develop national policies for the integration of the Roma. With respect to countries with candidate status, the relevant European Commission circular states that the EU’s aims for Roma integration apply equally to all countries, and calls on the candidate countries to revise their present policies to bring them into line with the declared targets. Emphasis was placed on the production of a National Roma Strategy Document during the visa exemption dialogue between the EU and Turkey in 2016 and the roadmap adopted for this purpose, and Turkey adopted its Strategy Document for Roma Citizens (2026-2021) on April 27th 2016.5 While the strategy document contains proposed solution for the educational, employment, healthcare and shelter problems of the Roma, it makes no mention at all of the Dom community. Yet the earlier draft, the National Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma Citizens Draft Document, which was sent to the Roma Rights Forum of Turkey (ROMFO), and published in January 2016, had indeed referred to separate Roma groups, including the Dom. In this draft document the concept of Roma was discussed as follows: “Another point of contention is the definition of the social group described by the term Roma. The term Roma is used as a general descriptive term for groups such as the Rom, Lom, Dom and Abdal who have different cultures. These groups and others with similar ways of life are sometimes locally called arabacı (carter), elekçi (sifter) and mitrip (musician) in reference to their sources of income. The term Gypsy (Çingene) is also used to denote these groups and other similar groups in other countries. However, although there are persons and groups who feel that the use of “Gypsy” is more appropriate and demand that it be used, this word is mostly used by those outside of these groups and is an exonymous term. The term has sometimes been used to denigrate and belittle members of these groups and as an insult towards those who are not members of these groups. Therefore, the use of the term Roma to describe all mentioned groups has been deemed appropriate for this policy paper. The use of the term Roma to describe a wide cultural range should neither be taken as ignoring the authentic culture of those who take themselves to be Roma, nor as dismissive of cultural diversity and the imposition of a one type mentality by ignoring those who do not describe themselves as Roma or use other terms. The use of the term Roma is a result of practical and pragmatic necessities. To this end the phrase “The Roma and groups which live like the Roma” may also be used. This expression is a useful social policy concept that has been produced to denote those groups which, whether they take themselves to be Roma or not (or be accepted or not as Roma by the Roma or other groups and persons), have common problems such as poverty, unemployment, lack of Access to educational services, living in unhealthy and inappropriate environments and face social exclusion. (The use of the term Roma for these groups was accepted in the Strasbourg Declaration produced at the European Council High Level Meeting on the Roma held on October 20th 2010 and the integration problems of the Roma were emphasised to be citizenship and equal rights issues.) In summary the principle is that it should be accepted that the Roma are excluded for being Roma, but other disadvantaged groups should not be left out and be given equal treatment while combating the social exclusion of the Roma. (A similar principle was included as the “clear but non-divisive aim” among the Ten Joint Principles for the Social Inclusion of the Roma accepted by the European Platform for the Social Inclusion of the Roma that gathered in Prague on April 24th 2009. The significance of this expression among the ten joint principles is also that the discrimination and social exclusion against the Roma should be openly stated, but those who are not Roma should not be left out of the scope of combating discrimination.) Unfortunately, this viewpoint was excluded from the final form of Turkey’s Strategy Document for Roma Citizens published in the Official Gazette. The Dom arrived in south eastern Anatolia (Antakya, Gaziantep, Kilis, Adıyaman, Urfa, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Batman, Van) in the early 11th century. Today they inhabit the southern and eastern regions of Turkey. Although they try to make a living out of their traditional occupations of drum and zurna playing, rifle repairing, dentistry, iron and tin smithing, and sieve, basket and bag making, as these professions are becoming less valid as a way of earning an income they have also turned to day labour such as seasonal migrant agriculture and waste and refuse collection. They have preserved their Domari language. They also speak Kurmanji, Zazaki and Turkish and generally prefer to use Domari mostly when within their own group. Although they are close to the Kurdish population culturally, they face discrimination from them also. It is thought that the Doms number around 500,000 in Turkey. This data is in need of further verification. They are generally very poor and most of them are nomadic (Marsh, 2008). In recent years they have found employment in seasonal work in agriculture and in day labour, as they can no longer practice their traditional occupations (Tarlan, 2014). In seasonal agricultural work, the Dom generally migrate in the print and throughout the summer in order to work in the hazelnut harvest in the Black Sea region, in hoeing and the harvesting of legumes in Central Anatolia, and in picking vegetables, pistachios, citrus fruits and cotton in South Eastern Anatolia and Çukurova. This results in significant disruption to the education of their children. Families take to the road in March and only return to their home provinces in November. In recent years the migratory lifestyle has been observed to last throughout the year. On the other hand, some families have become totally settled, which makes it easier for their children to receive an education. Today some young Doms have undergraduate degrees and professions, although these are still very few. Talented Dom musicians perform in many places around the world. The Mitrip community, whose name is derived from the Arabic Word for musician, and who live mainly in the eastern and south eastern provinces of Turkey,
are the most famous for their music (Keskin, 2006).