Street Dog Genocide: The Sad History of Turkish Street Dogs

Istanbul - where the street dog genocide of 1910 began

Istanbul – where the street dog genocide of 1910 began

Ten miles by boat from Istanbul in the Marmara Sea lies a barren island. Hayirsiz Ada, as the island is named, has no trees, no food, and no water.  And just over 100 years ago, it was the site of a street dog genocide.

I don’t use the word genocide lightly, but there’s not much else you can call what happened to 80,000 street dogs in 1910.

That’s the year the mayor of Istanbul rounded up more than 80% of the city’s street dogs and dumped them on the island. The dogs died of thirst and of hunger and of drowning as they tried desperately to get across the sea.

The Street Dog Genocide in Film

Some people in Turkey say an earthquake that hit the city a few year’s later was God’s vengeance for what was done to the street dogs. An Armenian filmmaker made Chienne d’Histoire, which won best short film at Cannes in 2010.  It tells the dogs’ story with graphic novel-like animation.

An even sadder film is the 30-minute Modern Bir Surgun Hikayesi, which has actual historic footage of the the dog round-up. Both films are subtitled – one in French, the other in English – but the images are powerful enough to overcome any language barriers.

Turkey’s Street Dogs Today

Unfortunately, this practice isn’t ancient history. While many Turkish people 100 years ago and today love street dogs and feed them, few dogs are kept as indoor pets. Dog dumping still happens. The country passed a national spay-neuter law, but Turkish animal rescue organizations say it’s only half-implemented.

Turkish street dog

Turkish street dog (photo by SHKD)

If someone complains about a street dog, the city may sterilize it. But instead of returning the pup to his territory, the government often dumps him in the forests or on the highways outside of the city.

There he will be hit by a car, succumb to disease, or slowly starve to death. That’s what happened to Luuk. (Scroll down for the English translation.)

Just as bad is when municipalities round up the dogs and take them to “shelters.” What sounds like a humane approach to American ears often fails the dogs miserably. With few staff and little funds, the dogs are locked in cages with little care.  Some have died of starvation.

Turkish street dogs aren’t forgotten though. Several rescue groups, both operating in Turkey and with help from abroad, are fighting to save them…

Thursday:  Turkey’s amazing rescue groups and what they’re doing to help street dogs

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About Labi

Hi. I'm a (former) street dog from the Congo, but now I'm the pet of Eric and Tracy Whittington. It's my mission to help street dogs - and other street animals - to make sure they have a good home off the streets. Maybe you can help too!

Discuss: “Street Dog Genocide: The Sad History of Turkish Street Dogs”

  1. December 7, 2013 at 5:26 am #

    Hi, I found your blog, because since 3 months I’m living in Turkey (Eskisehir), where I’m studying. At first I was totally in love with turkish idea (new for me, I’m from Poland) of street dogs. I thought it’s a great thing and all the dogs looked so happy and free to me. I’ve never met any example of their aggressive behavior. But couple of weeks ago I’ve started to be concerned and suspicious. How might that be possible that all of those quite big, strong animals are that calm and noninvasive all the time? Where is their sense of being wild, even a bit?
    Couple of days ago, I found one dog – different looking from the others, that’s why I know exactly that I’m talking about the same dog – laying in the middle of a very crowded pavement, a dog not vivid at all. Normally it’s an extremely vivid one, always happy, a little dummy, I would say, but always friendly. In that moment, I recognize him and stopped to stroke him. But he didn’t react, with his eyes closed (he was breathing and I could see slight movements of his closed eyes). Then, two or three days later, at 11 o’clock when I was going to the University, I saw exactly the same dog, lying at the exactly same place, exactly same position and characteristics – the situation repeated. Then, after two hours and a half (at 13:30), when I was coming back, the dog was still there – in the same position, also not reacting for my calls and touch (but alive).
    After that situation I became more attentive and I’m seeing a lot of examples of that behavior. Someone told me once, that Turkish street dogs are simply drugged by those who feed them. Of course it was only the rumor, but anyway, kind of a creepy story and I’ve decided to do some research about it. What do you think? What should I think? Turkey starts to seem to me as a place full of mystery but in the bad meaning of the word. And my inner fury’s becoming to grow.
    I would be grateful for your answer. My e-mail:

    Posted by Paulina

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