Thousands of animal rights activists marched against a draft law on Sunday that would make changes to Turkey's Animal Protection Law No. 5199, seeking to introduce practices currently used in other countries such as collecting stray animals from the streets and euthanizing members of the “excess” population.
More than 10,000 people marched in İstanbul's Taksim neighborhood, and many others walked in 13 other cities, in protest of the planned changes. The media didn't cover the event extensively during the day, as the congress of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), also held on Sunday, stole the show, at least on television screens. Social media users, however, provided equal coverage.
Bünyamin Salman, a member of the Animal Party, said what the government is attempting is reminiscent of what the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government did 102 years ago when it gathered up stray dogs and left them to starve to death on an island in the Marmara Sea. The pained howls of the dogs could be heard from land, according to local memory, and many disasters that hit İstanbul, including the Balkan War and a major earthquake, were blamed on the treatment of the city's dogs.
“We have lived in our cities with stray animals for centuries,” Salman said.
The thousands who gathered in Taksim, mostly in black outfits, on Sunday afternoon shared his message: Turks will not give up their stray animals to be isolated or euthanized. There were simultaneous protests in 13 other cities, although officials have mostly been silent on the matter. Photos of the crowded Taksim Square and demonstrations in other cities were posted on Twitter by participants, with two animal rights-related hashtags taking second and third place -- after the AK Party congress -- on Twitter's trending topics list for Turkey for much of the day.
In addition to ignoring demands that had been voiced by the animal rights community, such as the banning of dolphin parks or the introducing of tough rules against the breeding and selling pets, the draft introduces new practices such as isolating the city's stray animals and relaxing regulations on animal testing. Animal rights groups have labeled the proposal “the law of death.”
The draft came as a shock to the country's animal activists as it was presented to the prime minister after he and representatives of the country's major animal rights groups had met.
Officials say the animals taken off streets will be cared for at “natural life” parks, but Turkey's experience with shelters and rehabilitation centers and the sheer number of animals on the streets due to municipalities consistently ignoring laws on spaying and neutering strays make this physically impossible.
Hundreds gathered in other cities. “No to the bloody law!” read a protester's banner in Mersin. “God gave them life; only God can take it,” read another banner in Adana. “Leave strays alone,” read a banner in Bursa. In addition to these cities, there were demonstrations in İzmir; Muğla, with a separate one in Muğla's Ortaca district; Antalya, with and a second one in Antalya's Kaş district; Eskişehir; Giresun; Tekirdağ; Aydın, one in the center and one in the Kuşadası district; Samsun; Kocaeli; Çanakkale; Adapazarı; Alanya; Konya; Denizli; Bolu; Uşak; and Zonguldak.
A massive protest is being planned to be held in Ankara on Oct. 7. Four other cities -- Kocaeli, Trabzon, Kayseri and Balıkesir -- are also planning demonstrations for that date.
Parliament is due to open on Oct. 1, and the draft is expected to be among the first pieces of legislation to be discussed.