SELENDI, Turkey (Hurriyet)–Local Roma in the Selendi district of the Turkish province of Manisa were forced out of the city and will be relocated elsewhere after being subject to violence that the Roma claimed the mayor of the district provoked, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily reported Friday.
Seventy-four Roma, including 15 children, were forced to leave Selendi and seek refuge in the nearby district of Gordes as a result of the violence. Roma residents of the Selendi district have expressed concern for their lives after being forced to leave their homes.
Early media reports from the Aegean province said fighting began after Burhan Uckun, a Roma man residing in Selendi, was told to leave when he wanted to have a cup of tea at a coffee house in the district on Dec. 31. The owner of the coffee house reportedly told Uckun that he would not allow a “Gypsy” to have tea in his place. Uckun, however, insisted on drinking tea at the coffee house. Upon his insistence, the owner and some other customers beat Uckun. After the incident, the coffee house remained closed for a few days.
Homes and stores were set on fire and people were assaulted in a mass hate crime against the Roma community in Manisa on Wednesday after violence erupted over a trivial dispute. Nearly a thousand attacked members of the neighborhood’s Roma community, while witnesses say the police chose to sit and watch for a long while before intervening
Some sources, however, claimed that the tension erupted after UCkun wanted to smoke in the coffee house. It is against the law to smoke in indoor areas in Turkey.
When the coffee house was reopened on Wednesday, Hurriyet said Uckun and a group of relatives attacked the place, shattering its windows. The attack drew serious indignation in the district, with more than 1,000 locals stoning and setting ablaze tents and shanty houses belonging to Roma people. The angry crowd also destroyed many vehicles in neighborhoods mainly populated by Roma.
Unable to control the frustrated crowd, the mayor of Selendi had to send the Roma residents of his district to Gordes.
The incidents caused a wave of concern and fear among the Roma people, who said they were afraid of being killed by angry nationalists in Selendi.
“We suffered much. I have children and grandchildren. I was afraid of losing them. No one told the crowd to stop when they marched toward us. They were shouting, ‘Hit the Gypsies.’ I am also a citizen of Turkey. I extend my thanks to the head of the police department. We are still alive thanks to him. We want to take shelter in Gordes,” a Roma man told a Turkish broadcaster on Thursday.
Another Roma man accused Selendi Mayor Nurullah Savas of fomenting hatred against the Roma. The mayor, however, denied the accusations and said he had exerted his utmost to prevent the incidents. “I do not know why they are accusing me. I am very saddened. There was no enmity amongst our people,” he remarked.
Manisa Governor Celalettin Guvenc claimed that the Roma people were taken to Gordes upon their request. “We experienced undesired incidents on the evening of Jan. 5. Thank God, they were stopped with no loss of life. The Roma people of Selendi were taken to their relatives in Gordes upon their request. Since then we have been working to find jobs and better places for them to live in,” he noted.
Erdogan Sener, the head of the Akhisar Contemporary Roma Association, stated that the Roma were left in a difficult position after they were forced to leave their houses. “The district governor of Gördes said he did not have the means to let our people stay there. He said he could help our people pay their rent if they were sent to another place. The vehicles and houses of Roma people were set ablaze. They have no chance of returning to Selendi. I am asking the Red Crescent [Kizilay] to bring tents for them. They can stay for a certain while in Gordes,” Sener noted. State Minister Faruk Celik announced that the government was working on a plan to allocate buildings to the displaced Roma.
Clashes that erupted after a dispute between a man of Roma origin and locals in Manisa’s Selendi district have led to a vigilante campaign against the district’s Roma population. Seventy-four Roma, including 15 children, were forced to leave Selendi and seek refuge in the nearby district of Gordes as a result.
“The Roma have asked us [the government] to help them find places to live and educate their children. They also have trouble finding jobs and complain about being discriminated against in society. We are working on a project to meet the needs of our Roma people,” he remarked.
Celik is the coordinator of government efforts for a series of workshops to address issues facing the Roma. After launching the Kurdish initiative and a series of workshops with the purpose of recognizing and finding solutions to problems faced by the Alevi community, the government decided to convene its first Roma workshop. Representatives of Turkey’s Roma community in Istanbul, Edirne, Kirsehir, Artvin, Van and several other cities, 120 people in all, attended the event in December.
“We should not put the blame on all Selendi residents. The incidents in Selendi have a background. … What we are working on is not an initiative. If the state fails to take the necessary steps for the Roma, we will experience similar incidents in the future. Roma people are disadvantaged in society,” the minister added.
In the meantime, the Izmir branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) announced that they would send a group of observers to Gordes to listen to the problems of the Roma there.