Haydar Ozkan arrives every day to feed dozens of stray puppies in a vacant lot located at the foot of residential towers in the suburbs of Ankara, the Turkish capital.
Haydar Ozkan But this animal rights defender knows that, without the support of the authorities, his efforts will not be enough to improve the situation of street dogs, which are now at the heart of a violent controversy in Turkey. .
“There are about 40 puppies here, born to five mothers. In six months, the women in turn have babies. If they are not sterilized, imagine how quickly we will reach hundreds of dogs” , he revealed.
Unlike most European countries, stray dogs and cats, whose population is estimated at several million across the country, are an important part of daily life for Turks, many of whom takes care of them.
In Istanbul, cats and dogs dozing on every street corner, often fond of petting, are for many inseparable from the identity of the city.
“We are a society that coexists with animals. It is a tradition. Every neighborhood has its dogs and people who take care of them,” according to the historian Ekrem Isin, author of a book about street dogs. Istanbul.
-“Clean the streets”-
But others, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the lead, are now questioning this tradition.
Last December, after the attack on a little girl by two pit bulls, although domesticated, the head of state encouraged municipalities to put street dogs in shelters ” to ensure the safety of our citizens”.
“[Leur] the place is not in the street but in the residences”, he launched, a declaration that was seen targeting the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, opposition figure and potential candidate for the presidential elections in June 2023.
Two months ago, Mr. Imamoglu, a skilled communicator, was accused of surfing the story – which went viral – of Boji, a street dog who spends his days using public transport in Istanbul.
The controversy changed when groups calling for “cleaning the streets with dogs” organized themselves on social networks.
An application called Havrita, which allows you to find them on a map, was launched in May.
“Since then, there have been many killings of dogs by poisoning and the discourse calling for their elimination has become normal,” said Gulsaniye Ekmekci, of the Istanbul Bar Association, which filed a complaint against the app.
“Havrita also incites violence against the volunteers who feed them. Many are attacked,” said Volkan Koç, founder of the Patilikoy shelter in Ankara.
A court in Ankara finally banned access to Havrita two weeks ago.
“The municipalities failed in their duty of sterilization. When the dog population increased, they moved them from one place to another, causing the formation of sometimes aggressive packs,” said Ms. Ekmekci.
Despite this, the number of attacks committed by stray dogs remains marginal, he said.
-Died of thirst-
Among some Turks, the current controversy revives the memory of the tragedy of Hayirsizada (the cursed island, in Turkish).
In 1910, in an attempt to modernize Istanbul on the model of the great European capitals, the Ottoman authorities banished nearly 80,000 stray dogs to a desert island in the Sea of Marmara.
Most died of hunger and thirst.
“One has the impression that a hundred years ago, dogs were used as goats again,” said Serge Avédikian, winner of the 2010 Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival for in his film Chienne d’ story about. the drama of Hayirsizada.
“This shows the state of mind of a society that doubts itself. (…) A civil society of peace will find an agreement through dialogue that the best for dogs is to adopt, ” he added.
For Volkan Koç, however, the ghost of Hayirsizada is a thing of the past. “Animal rights activists are a tight-knit and very diverse group today,” he said.
“The Europeans solved this problem by sterilizing the dogs and adopting them. We may be behind it, but our people have a good heart. We will not allow a minority to harm the animals.”