Century on, political fights rage over Turkey’s canine

Ubiquitous and iconic, Istanbul’s road canine have been swept up in a political storm involving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an app that helped get them killed. The sheer variety of stray animals-dogs and cats both-darting between folks and lounging on public squares jumps out at most guests to Turkey’s historical cultural capital. They might properly be descendants of the canine glorified within the first grainy images of the town, during which they roam in packs close to landmarks such because the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.

That is no accident, based on Ekrem Isin, a researcher who wrote “The 4-Legged Municipality: The Avenue Canine of Istanbul”. “We’re a society that coexists with animals. Really it’s an jap custom. Each neighborhood has its canine and individuals who deal with them,” he mentioned in an interview.

A Stray canine walks in entrance of the Hagia Sofia Mosque in Istanbul.

In some Islamic cultures, the trustworthy see canine as harmless creatures that can communicate on judgment day and open the believers’ technique to heaven. However till then, they’re seen as unclean and finest saved out on the streets. “So though our folks beloved canine, they didn’t take them dwelling however fed them on the road,” Isin mentioned. It has been a love-hate affair of late that, like most issues within the painfully polarized nation, has taken on a political lifetime of its personal.

Erdogan casts blame

Late final 12 months, a four-year-old lady was attacked and significantly injured by a pair of pit bulls in Gaziantep, a big metropolis within the southeast. The pitbulls have been pets moderately than strays however Erdogan seized on the incident, declaring: “Stray animals belong in shelters, not the streets.” The seemingly innocuous remark was in truth a jibe geared toward his nice rival, Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. Politically formidable and media savvy, Imamoglu beat Erdogan’s ally in extremely controversial polls in 2019, handing the town the Turkish chief himself as soon as headed to the secular opposition CHP occasion.

Two months earlier than the lady’s mauling, Imamoglu had launched considered one of his many social media campaigns-this one that includes the travels of a stray known as Boji on Istanbul’s trains and ferries. Erdogan’s message was clear-the authorities was making an attempt to make the streets secure of canine let free by the opposition. CHP’s deputy chief Ali Oztunc, who oversees animal welfare, accused the federal government of failing to provide opposition-led cities sufficient funding to neuter and shelter strays. “It acts as if (cities) ought to deal with their very own enterprise,” Oztunc informed AFP.

‘Coronary heart-rending wails’

The arguments grew extra pressing with the emergence of an app known as Havrita-made up of the phrases “woof” and “map” in Turkish-which allowed customers to report the precise location of strays. Canine started dying in droves after Havrita’s launch in Could. “We started to listen to extra about poisoning instances or mass killings,” mentioned lawyer Gulsaniye Ekmekci of the Istanbul Bar’s Animal Rights Fee. This month, an Ankara courtroom sided with Havrita’s critics, blocking entry to each its web site and the app. “We can’t remedy the issue by killing animals,” Ekmekci mentioned.

Istanbul has tried eliminating its canine earlier than. In 1910, the Ottomans exiled 80,000 strays to a abandoned island within the Sea of Marmara as a part of a modernization drive geared toward giving the empire’s then-capital a extra European really feel.

“There wasn’t a drop of water to drink and the canine killed one another out of starvation and thirst,” wrote French novelist and navy officer Pierre Loti, who frequented Istanbul on the time. “Each time a ship handed close to the island, all of them would run to the shore and you can hear heart-rending wails.”

A stray canine sits beneath the Galata Tower in Istanbul.

Settling scores

Director Serge Avedikian, whose “Barking Island” in regards to the experiment gained the Quick Movie Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2010, thinks canine have as soon as extra develop into victims of politics. “A century later, canine are once more getting used as scapegoats,” Avedikian informed AFP. “Since there’s no dialogue in society and no settlement on hardly any challenge, they settle scores by canine,” he mentioned.

However Volkan Koc, founding father of the Patilikoy shelter within the fashionable Turkish capital Ankara, takes a extra optimistic view. “Europeans have solved this drawback by sterilizing canine and providing them up for adoption,” he mentioned. “We could also be behind on this however our folks have good hearts. We’ll by no means let a minority hurt animals.” – AFP

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