Sunday, July 29, 2007

On poverty

How quickly we have grown used to the urban poor and poverty itself. Beggars positioned at certain corners and overpasses, vendors in rags selling paper handkerchiefs, little children who wipe car windscreens with dirty rags in all sorts of weather… The slum districts which are scattered across the city which have no place on our personal maps… The poverty which we pretend not to see, the image of which is already erased by the time we turn our faces the other way…

The medium- to high-income groups, whom the advertising business labels “A-B,” prefer to live a life oblivious to the poor. One sees everyday the ads for compounds (or should we call them ghettos?) designed to urge a class-hike and which promise a new life style. The issue of poverty, which is at such proportions that it was a topic of discussion at a session of the National Security Council, is no longer on the agenda given it is understood that it will not spark a political movement. It has no news value, much less an audience. As such, the urban population is comfortable in ignoring the villager who has no land to tend to and no money in their pockets or the sorry Kurds who have had to crowd into the cities because their villages have been evacuated.

Poverty for most of us is merely a matter of law and order. We are all in fear of theft, purse-snatching, etc. We are so afraid that, rather than searching for the root of the problem, we seek solace in our most important defence mechanisms: labels. “Oh those Kurds, and those Gypsies!” This is the origin of racism uncurtailed.

Little do we know that the steel doors, high ghetto walls, or labels we hide behind can do nothing to protect us from the danger on the streets.

Turkey is among countries with the greatest gap in income distribution. 20% of the population, in the lowest-income group, has a 5% share of national income, with the upper 20% gathering 50% of national income. The poverty line for a family of four is 2000 YTL. The same family has to spend 900 YTL on food and shelter, but the minimum wage is 403 YTL and the lowest pension is only 543 YTL. It is estimated that approximately 55% of the population has to live below the poverty line.

Today, poverty is within the area of interest of a handful of leftists, syndicalists, and academicians. The economy politics the IMF is notorious for has long ago discluded the human being, which for economic science constitutes the most basic element of analysis. Today we have grown accustomed to paying private hospitals when in dire need, in this country where the social security system is on course to liquidation. We cannot have anything in common with those who have to wait months to get operated on or with those who have to drag themselves from door to door without getting properly examined.

Poverty is one of the greatest taboos of our overtaxed, short-sighted politics. By this I do not mean catch-phrases such as “two keys in 500 days” which some inept politicians use in their campaigns to mesmerize the masses but rather the socio-politics, a discourse above parties which aims to improve income distribution, feed and clothe the poor, and provide social security to the employed and unemployed alike. In these days in which we have entered the election zone by force of military boot stomps, shall we go out, with a lantern in broad daylight, just like Diogenes, looking for a honest political party that will indeed develop a social politics in this country, which according to its constitution is a “social” state?

“Pssst, little girl!”

A few days ago, a tea garden in Moda with a view over the sea

Three elderly ladies are sipping their tea or coffee, whichever one they felt like drinking, and chatting in gaiety. One of the ladies has stretched her legs and put her feet onto a vacant seat and put a newspaper under her feet so that they do not get dirty. The good old wind appears, blows the newspaper away and puts it onto the cliff descending over the sea a few meters from where they are seated. In the meantime, a gypsy girl is begging for money in the one-meter wide space between the cliff and the garden fence.

The lady whose newspaper blows away, cries out to the gypsy girl, when she approaches them:

“Pssst, young girl! Look over! Give me that newspaper!”

The little girl looks at her, approaches them shyly, takes the newspaper just near the cliff with hesitation and gives it to the lady in a surprised manner. With the emcouragement of having been sked to help, she eagerly repeats her refrain:

“My sister! In the name of God, will you please.... “

The lady does not even listen to a word:

“Get out of here! Get the hell out! I shall not see you around. Aren’t you ashamed of begging?”


It is necessary to think about the situation of these people whom we only demand to serve us, do our errands, and whom we refuse to form any further bonds with. It is necessary to think on poverty.

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer
Photograph by Ayşegül Oğuz

May 18, 2007

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