Persecution of the Roma has lasted for centuries - even in Turkey today

The Roma (also known as Gypsy) is an ethnic group of traditionally itinerant people who currently live in many countries across the world. Because of the diversity of locations and cultural integration over the years, the group is known by a great variety of names throughout Europe and the Middle East region -including Zigeuner and Sinti (Germany), Gitans (France), Gitanos and Calo (Spain), Dom and Nawar (Jordan; Palestine), Qurbat (Syria), and Roman/Çingene (Turkey).

Gypsies who live in Turkey are also one of the most vulnerable groups in society; even the word “Gypsy (Çingene in Turkish)” has been used for insulting purposes by a large part of the society. Gypsies in Turkey still suffer from poverty and social exclusion. They mostly do not have an equal opportunity to access education, housing, and health care services. 48 Roma associations in Turkey declared that they continue to face deep discrimination, and this marginalisation triggers division among people.

An old and large ethnic minority

The English term “Gypsy” is derived from the word “Egypt,” based on a misconception. Gypsies were thought to have come from Egypt. However, most “Gypsies” throughout Europe are Indo-Aryan ethnic group who originally migrated from northwest India more than 1,500 years ago. While some people use this term in a pejorative context, some people in the Roma community are proud to associate themselves with the word.

They have historically lived nomadic lives due to their work and cultural tradition, although most Roma population are now largely settled. The Council of Europe estimates that there are around 10-12 million Roma in Europe, and approximately 6 million are citizens or residents of the European Union. Although they are one of the oldest and largest ethnic minorities in Europe, little is known about their culture and traditions.

Persecuted across Europe

The Roma have not only been persecuted in Turkey. There have been systematic persecution and discrimination in the European continent and worldwide against Gypsies, and some of it still continues today. To illustrate, in addition to Jews and other groups, the Gypsies were targeted by the Nazi regime in World War II. It is estimated that around 500,000 Gypsies were murdered during the Holocaust. A Gypsy slavery market in Romania that was active for 500 years from 14th to 19th century.

Due to this long history of persecution, gypsies have remained socially isolated because of their traditions. They are still routinely denied their human rights to housing, healthcare, education and work in society. They remain one of the most deprived ethnic groups as negative discrimination against them has been reported in almost all European countries.

Some EU leaders and politicians use hate speech or discriminatory policies against Roma as a political tool to get more votes. For instance, in 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid Roma people €300 each to leave the country. Silviu Prigoana, a Romanian MP in 2010, introduced a bill that would ban Romanian institutions from using the word “Roma” to describe the Gypsy population. He suggested the expression be replaced by the pejorative “Tzigane”, a word that comes from the Greek term for “untouchable”. In 2013, Zsolt Bayer, co-founder of the Fidesz Party in Hungary, declared: “a significant part of the Roma is unfit for co-existence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals.”

Many European countries to this day still have segregated schools for Roma children. According to a 2011 report by minority rights ombudsman Erno Kallai in Hungary, the school kept classes for Roma on the ground floor and white students on the upper floors. This segregation still continues in many schools in Hungary; it may increase the polarisation among people in the future. Moreover, a report from the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups and Anglia Ruskin University (2014) shows that nine out of 10 Gypsy children have suffered racial abuse, and two-thirds of Romani children have been bullied or physically attacked in the UK.

As a result, despite being Europe’s largest minority group, the Roma population have been voiceless for centuries. The existence of widespread anti-Gypsy narrative deepens their economic and social deprivation as many Roma continue to live in segregated areas in poor conditions.

Gypsies, who historically have been victims of various massacres and persecution, did not try to dominate different cultures. They did not try to assimilate the others. They only demand to live in peace based on their tradition and lifestyle as human beings.

The first International Romani Congress, meeting in London on April 8, 1971, was a historic milestone for a process of collective affirmation of the Roma population. The International Romani Day (April 8) is a day to celebrate diversity, Romani culture, and identity. It is also a moment to raise awareness to take action against the hate speech and discriminatory policies targeting the Roma population. Roma communities must have equal access to basic needs such as housing, health care services, and education. We must provide equal opportunities and education services for all children regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, or beliefs to have a better future. We should always remember that there is enough space to live in peace for everyone as a human being.



The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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