Last week came news of a dramatic scandal, of animals freezing to death at an animal shelter in Bolu. While Turkey still has a long way to go in terms of promoting animal welfare, artists and activists are striving to make their voices heard in favor of animal rights.
An art initiative dealing with animal rights and aiming to raise awareness about the issue is now waiting for visitors' support. “Hayvan Gibi Sergi” (Animal-like Exhibition) draws attention to the poor conditions in animal shelters and their need for food and medicine. Featuring works from 47 artists, the exhibition runs until Saturday at Milk Gallery in İstanbul's Beyoğlu district.
The revenue from the exhibition will be donated to designated shelters, and the exhibition is planned to be opened in other cities such as Ankara, İzmir, Eskişehir and Bursa. Along with Merve Morkoç, the organizer of the exhibition, artists include Bora Sütçü, Can Pekdemir, Ece Gökalp, Fulya Çetin, Mert Ülkümen, Mustafa Karasu, Oytun Yılmaz, Sedat Girgin and Zeynep Uslu.
“Actually, the project belongs totally to Merve Morkoç,” said Elif Çevik, the founder of Milk Gallery. “She told us what she had in mind and wanted us to support it by providing an exhibition space. We thought the project was very well intended, so we wanted to do something more than just provide an exhibition space. The project will continue for a couple of years and will have several pillars,” including the bringing of the exhibit to other Turkish cities, a festival and fundraising concerts.
An initiative for animals
“I was so fed up with trying to help animals individually,” Morkoç said in an interview with Today's Zaman. “If animals are very important to you, life is very hard for you in Turkey. For instance, I remember carrying a kitten in my lap as I was going to my friends' houses to see whether anyone would take care of it for four hours, but they wouldn't even open their doors to me because they knew that's why I had come.”
Morkoç has been deeply interested in animals since childhood and has been working for many years to help improve conditions in animal shelters. “The cages in both veterinary clinics and shelters are all full. In some shelters, there are 760 dogs and 90 cats. In some shelters, animals have begun to eat newborn puppies because of hunger. I was on holiday when I began thinking about what can be done about this issue. I came back from holiday, but I still felt uneasy about it. If you have a conscience, you feel disturbed by it. There are many animal shelters, and they are working at overcapacity, but they can't reject incoming animals. When you watch the security camera footage from these shelters, you see that people bring in their pets, leave them and run away. Sixty percent of the animals at shelters are mostly pets that have been left by people.”
After deciding to initiate an exhibit that would raise awareness about the miserable situation at shelters, Morkoç received the support she wanted from Milk Gallery. “We wanted to do it as soon as possible, without losing time after New Year's,” Morkoç said. “We were able to bring 47 artists together in a month. I believe that I stimulated people a little about this issue because everybody seems to be an animal lover, but when you ask them what they have done for animals, very few people answer this affirmatively.”
However, Morkoç's projects are not only confined to this exhibition. “I want to create workshops about animals,” she said. “I want to install doghouses and cathouses in districts. We are also thinking of adding music to this project. Maybe we can organize a festival. Actually, it can be turned into a year-round program. This is the first time that we are organizing such events, so [the planned concerts and the potential festival] will be a new experience for us. We'll wait and see how it ends up.”
The loss of neighborhoods
While the boundaries of the metropolis that is İstanbul keep expanding every day, many İstanbul customs have tended to change as well, such as the taking care of street animals by the local people of the neighborhood. “The notion of neighborhood is being lost,” Morkoç said. “Children do not play on the street anymore; parents want to keep them in enclosed areas. And they can't touch animals anymore. When I was a child, we used to take care of the street animals every day and even take them home. People used to look after the street animals in the neighborhood. Our mothers used to sweep the streets. Nowadays, people don't even greet each other. Now, children fear animals. Parents are not conscious about it, and people have become crueler to animals.”
“Nowadays, people have become really ungrateful,” Morkoç added. “There used to be a shelter in Beylikdüzü, and we used to go there after school when we were children. Now that shelter is closed because people in the area were disturbed by the animals' noise,” said Morkoç, adding that this was the outcome of a huge, sad irony: “The animals at the shelter were pets that were abandoned by the people living in the area. First they buy them, then they abandon them and then are disturbed by their noise.”
Visiting animal shelters regularly, Morkoç has witnessed many horrible cases of cruelty to and torture of defenseless animals, a situation that cannot be prevented because there are no preventive laws or sanctions against such acts of violence and abuse. “Dozens of animal abuse cases are addressed at shelters everyday,” Morkoç said. “In many other countries, there are very serious laws against such abuse. You can't even treat your own pet badly. In Turkey, the abuse of animals is not considered a crime. Even if a law is enacted, such cases won't immediately cease. This is an awareness that must be taught to the child by the parents.”