Poverty in Turkey
Conditions seemed to improve for the disadvantaged in Turkey for a decade-long period through the early 2000s. When first elected, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purported to lift the country out of the severe economic recession in progress at the time. Unemployment and poverty rates plummeted until 2013 when civil unrest roiled after the Turkish government’s violent response to the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. Foreign investments in Turkish government bonds fell from 25% in May 2013 to 5% by 2020. Now, Turkey is once again experiencing a poverty crisis. Here are five facts about poverty in Turkey.

5 Facts About Poverty in Turkey

  1. Turkey has been in a financial crisis since 2018. The Turkish lira is devaluing, worth only $0.12 to the U.S. dollar and $0.10 to the euro. The rate of inflation reached 17.53% in July 2021. This means that along with many Turks losing their jobs, they must grapple with the rapidly growing costs of basic necessities. Food inflation alone has increased by 20% since 2020.
  2. COVID-19 is exacerbating poverty in Turkey. About 17 million people out of a population of 81 million lived below the poverty line in 2019. Now, the poverty rate has increased to about 12%. Many Turks are struggling to find employment and cannot pay for accommodation or electricity. These conditions have additionally prevented children from continuing education remotely.
  3. Turks are finding new ways to secure themselves in an unpredictable economic environment. Investments in cryptocurrency, stocks, gold and foreign currency are gaining traction among Turkish people. Many fear losing their savings if they do not take such actions. However, even these methods may be at risk of destabilizing as Turkey’s economic crisis progresses.
  4. It is increasingly difficult for the Turkish government to accept Syrian refugees. This is largely due to the continuing economic crisis and lessening support for Syrian immigration from citizens. The European Union assisted 1.6 million of the most vulnerable refugees through a program called Emergency Social Safety Net. Each family received monthly cash transfers of 120 Turkish lira for each family member. This has also helped the Turkish government manage struggling refugees. Poverty in Turkey is impacting the country’s ability to serve as a safe location for Syrian refugees.
  5. The World Bank is taking steps to respond to increasing poverty rates. In the fiscal year 2020, the World Bank established the Safer Schooling and Distance Education Project, providing $160 million worth of aid. Two new programs added in 2021 include the Emergency Firm Support Project, worth $300 million in aid, and Rapid Support for Micro and Small Enterprises During COVID-19, worth $500 million. The programs aim to preserve jobs for the Turkish people. So far, this fiscal year, the World Bank has given Turkey $1.5 billion in assistance. Many other World Bank projects will continue to mitigate poverty in Turkey.

Looking Ahead

The state of poverty in Turkey is in flux. The country continues to struggle with an economic and refugee crisis in the midst of a pandemic. With the support of the European Union and the World Bank, however, Turkish people in need will have the ability to combat poverty.

– Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Turkey's Invisible Gypsy Population
The Dom community has been present in Turkey and the Middle East for thousands of years. Like their more popular Romani counterpart, the Dom people have roots in the Indian subcontinent. Throughout the ages, the Dom people have faced exile and oppression. The Dom people are Turkey’s invisible population. However, the villainization of historically nomadic peoples is more prevalent now than ever. The growing disdain for ethnic non-Turks has made the situation worse. Many Dom people are now at severe risk of food scarcity and homelessness. Dom communities face much of the brunt of xenophobia in Turkey today.

The Dom Throughout the Ages

Thousands of years ago, India and the surrounding regions were home to dozens of different languages and nomadic peoples. One of these languages was Domari and the speakers were the Dom. The name “Dom” is also the name of one of the lowest castes in the Hindu religion. However, it is unclear whether the two groups relate due to sparse historical documentation and sources.

While the more popular Romani nomads migrated out of the Indian subcontinent in the ninth and 10th centuries BCE, the Dom migrated in the 13th and 14th centuries, primarily into the Middle East and Anatolia. Most Dom populations reside in Syria, Turkey, Palestine, the broader Levant region and potentially Iraq and Iran.

Within these regions, the Dom and other nomadic Indo-Aryan groups have faced centuries of ethnic discrimination, even after having adopted sedentary lifestyles. Many Dom communities maintain the same religion, cultural practices and languages of the regions in which they reside, with the Domari language becoming less and less known in Dom communities.

The Dom in the Present Day

In the present day, the Dom population in Turkey primarily resides in the south-eastern region of the country, near Iraq and Iran. Before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, there was also a sizable concentration of Dom living in Aleppo. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan currently leads Turkey, representing the conservative, Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (abbreviated to AKP in Turkish). The AKP is known for its opposition to both the growing Syrian Refugee presence and the country’s Kurdish population. One 2019 poll found that 68% of AKP supporters expressed disdain for the Syrian refugee presence in Turkey, with similar figures coming from the party’s political allies.

In the same year, Erdoğan brought his disdain for ethnic Kurds to America, culminating in the presentation of an anti-Kurdish video to then-President Donald Trump. To add fuel to the fire, these two groups often coincide with one another, with many Syrian Kurds seeking refuge in Turkey.

In the middle of these tensions lies the Dom population of Turkey. The Dom population often goes unseen entirely among the regional turmoil. However, the Syrian Civil War and Kurdish tensions in Turkey are also affecting the Turkish Dom. Coincidentally, the regions that are home to Kurds and refugees in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, are where the Dom live.

The Dom: Turkey’s Invisible Population

As a result of the historical marginalization of the Dom, there is ambiguity in regards to Dom communities today. For instance, there is no official census for the Dom population in Turkey. Many Dom community members also reject the “gypsy” label as it could potentially result in further alienation, instead opting to refer to themselves as Arab or Turkmen.

The Dom experience some of the highest rates of homelessness, food scarcity and illiteracy among Turkey’s marginalized groups. Dom families struggle to find housing, with entire communities relegated to living in makeshift shelters or tents. Many Dom living in refugee camps have attested to ethnic discrimination in food distribution by NGOs. Those not inhabiting refugee camps lack access to food. The Dom population has far lower rates of literacy and formal education than their ethnically Turkish counterparts.

Organizational Relief for the Dom

Luckily, organizations providing aid and relief for the Dom population in Turkey are working hard to improve the situation. Many regional organizations, like the Tarlabaşı Community Center in Istanbul, are committed to providing much-needed resources to Dom communities and refugees in need.

Additionally, one Turkish-based organization, Kırkayak Kültür – Dom Research Workshop, is gaining traction as one of the leading organizations for the Dom population in Turkey. Founded in 2011, Kırkayak Kültür is an advocacy group fighting for policy change and raising awareness. It has taken an active role in bringing awareness for the Dom people among NGOs and governmental institutions.

With the physical hardships and the centuries-long social ostracization of Dom communities, relief for Syrian and Turkish Dom is necessary. If Dom’s culture, language and identity are to survive, preservation and advocacy efforts like Kırkayak Kültür are essential. Through their work in this area, community organizations in Turkey are leading the charge with aid for Turkey’s invisible population.

– Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash