|ANKARA, Turkey â€” Turkish authorities are openly violating laws to prevent cruelty against animals, with abuses against stray dogs intensifying, rights activists and opposition lawmakers say.|
The charges follow the recent discovery of hundreds of dead dogs in a garbage dump in Ankara’s Mamak district, whose mayor belongs to the ruling Justice and Development Party. Animal rights campaigners allege the dogs were poisoned or shot dead by teams of municipal workers whose job is to curb the city’s large population of strays.
Under an animal rights law adopted in 2004 as part of this predominantly Muslim nation’s efforts to join the European Union, municipalities are to gather strays and neuter and inoculate them against rabies. They can then either tag them and set them loose or place them in government-run shelters.
“Instead, they just kill them on the streets,” Fersun Isitman, a rights campaigner, said.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people from across the country gathered with their pets in Ankara’s Tandogan square to protest the killings.
Many carried pictures of the dogs found at Mamak captioned, “Allah created us as well.”
“Such barbarism violates the spirit of Islam,” said Hatice Uysal, a homemaker wearing a head scarf. “It’s hard to imagine Turkey joining the EU under these circumstances.”
“Turkey’s image in Europe is bad enough already with widespread violence against women, human rights abuses and child labor,” said Sibel Kekilli, an internationally acclaimed German film star of Turkish descent.
Opposition lawmaker Yilmaz Ates, who took part in the rally, said the Islam-rooted national government had yet to respond to his party’s written demand that it take legal action against municipalities alleged to be responsible for the killings. “If such horrors occur in the capital, one can only guess what goes on in the rest of the country,” he said.
Allegations that municipal workers were hunting and killing strays surfaced last month when Burcu Isikalp, a young veterinarian, went looking for seven dogs she had been caring for near her home. Isikalp said that neighbors told her they saw municipal workers take the strays away.
She headed for the Mamak dump, Ankara’s largest, where she found one of the strays, Johnny, with hundreds of other dogs. “They were all dead, stacked in large pits,” Isikalp said in a recent interview.
Chilling photographs showed one dog with wire around its neck and another with bullet wounds on its haunches. Ten puppies were found dead in a sealed plastic bag. The mass graves have now been covered with earth.
Rifki Haziroglu, the chief pathologist at Ankara University’s veterinary medicine school, said, “The animals were clearly tortured â€¦ we must await the lab results.”
Mamak’s pro-Islamic mayor, Gazi Sahin, has denied responsibility, saying his men never killed strays and only collected dead dogs found on the roads.
Rights activist Isitman said that last year she and others uncovered a mass grave full of the bodies of dogs in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district, which is also run by a pro-Islamic mayor.
Municipalities run by Islamic-oriented parties are accused of being less responsive because of alleged religious bias. “There is the myth among many pious Muslims that dogs are unclean and that angels do not descend on homes where there are dogs,” Isikalp, the veterinarian, said. “In fact the Koran says we must be kind to all living things, and dogs are no exception.”
Until recently it was common practice for municipalities, including those run by pro-secular parties, to poison strays with strychnine-laced meat or to shoot them dead. With pet ownership spreading among middle-class Turks, pressure has been mounting on authorities to treat animals more humanely.
In Ankara’s upscale Cankaya district run by the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, a new shelter pipes Mozart and Beethoven to about 5,000 canines and provides them with central heating and warm meals. It is seen as a sure vote-getter.
Sakir Dogan Tuncer, another faculty member of Ankara University’s veterinary medicine school, said one reason the new animal rights law was not being implemented was that official guidelines on how to do so had yet to be established.
This in turn has “created a vacuum in which such atrocities occur, not just in Ankara but across Turkey,” he said.