Elmas Arus: “Struggling Against Discrimination Starts Off From Local Struggle”

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“The Most Romani Friendly Mayor” award given by Joint Initiative of Civil Society Development at Western Balkans and Turkey and Zero Discrimination Association was bestowed to İzmir Konak Mayor Abdül Batur this year. President of the Zero Discrimination Association Elmas Arus has answered our questions about the issue and said that she believes that the struggle against discrimination begins from local struggle and that social transformation starts off from there. 

For what purpose is “The Most Romani Friendly Mayor” award given? Why did you need to give such an award?

The Most Romani Friendly Mayor campaign is being carried out within the scope of the Strengthening Romani Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey Joint Initiative project. The aim of the campaign can be summed up as strengthening the relationship between Romanis and local governments, making them aware of Romani problems, developing solutions for these problems by including Romani people into these solutions, encouraging the development of practicable, holistic social policies that are non-discriminatory, mucking in on activities related to the social inclusion of Romanis by establishing international relations. The campaign aims to raise awareness of for Romani people’s problems and to generate solutions together.

Why did you choose municipalities instead of other public bodies?

Municipalities are the most reachable public bodies for Romani citizens. For this reason enabling the municipalities to focus on these issues and increasing their awareness would ensure Romani citizens to acquire their active citizenship rights. On the other hand, we believe that the struggle against discrimination begins from local struggle and that social transformation starts off from there. For this reason, the awareness and interest of local governments is important in eliminating the discrimination that Romani citizens encounter. With this campaign, we want to spread good practice models and encourage municipalities to work on these issues as well as emboldening other municipalities to do so.

Of whom and which institutions does the jury of the award consist and according to which criteria are the candidates determined?

The award jury is an independent evaluation board consisting of academics, Romani activists, Romani associations and local government employees working in this field. The evaluation criteria are the measurement of the services provided by the municipality to the Romanis living within their regions. The candidates become prominent with questions such as how does the municipality contribute to the access of Romanis to health rights, does it work to strengthen their participation in education, does it actively support Romani employment within and in the market, are there activities to improve housing conditions, are Romani people represented among the municipal council or does it work in line with the strategy paper for Romani citizens and is there a budget prepared for this or not. On the other hand, it is an important criterion that we consider whether the works of the municipality serve as an example for other municipalities. Because we aim to ensure the applicability of good practice models that had emerged with this campaign at other municipalities as well.

For which works has Konak Mayor Abdül Batur been granted this award?

First of all, the presence of Romani citizens among the city council has been an important factor, With his efforts to improve relations with Romani community by frequently visiting Romani neighborhood as well as contributing to the presence of Romani Study Group within the municipality, providing employment of Romani citizens within, preserving the cultural structure by asking the opinions of Romanis in urban transformation projects, ensuring continuity in education by providing breakfast in schools and giving scholarships to children on secondary and higher education, Abdül Batur was deemed worthy for the award.

We believe that the activities will set example for other municipalities.

The Most Consistent Municipality in Struggling Discrimination is Hacı Bektaş

Why Hacı Bektaş Municipality will be given the “Most Consistent Mayor Award in Struggling Discrimination”?

Although Hacıbektaş Municipality does not have a heavy Romani population, Hacı Bektaş hosts a lot of Romani people for commemoration ceremonies. Two years ago, the dates of the ceremonies were changed in order to hinder Romani participation at the ceremonies and the Romanis were subjected to great discrimination. Arif Yoldaş Altıok, who was elected mayor in the last local election, wanted to prevent this discrimination and held the ceremonies at their original dates and showed that he was determined to fight against discrimination. For the commemorations that will take place in the coming years, he pledges to work on improving the conditions of Romani citizens.

Konak Mayor Abdül Batur: Problems are Education, Employment and Accommodation

The Mayor of Konak, Abdul Batur, who was elected “The most Romani-friendly Mayor” will receive his award in Brussels at a ceremony to be held on the 18-20th of November at European Parliament.
Abdül Batur, whose opinions on the subject, reminded that there was a heavy Romani population in Konak, and that the citizens of the Romani community had a positive discriminatory view towards the provinces they live in. Batur says that the three most important problems of Romanis are education, employment and housing. “There is no capacity at local authorities to prepare a short term plan and to provide employment for all those in need. However something can be done in order to create area of employment. We are establishing a Romani Cultural Center. In addition to the trainings to be held there, drug addiction will also be struggled. We want to save young people before they get caught by substance abuse. We need an education starting from the age of five, so we will open a nursery as well. 

First Award Was Granted Last Year

The first “Turkey’s Most Romani Friendly Mayor” award within the scope of the “Romani Civil Society Organizations Project” carried out by Zero Discrimination Association along with the Strengthening Romani Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey Joint Initiative was given to Istanbul Sisli Mayor Hayri İnönü and Samsun Canik Mayor Osman Genç last year.

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