Rescuing the bears, silencing the bear leaders: bear dancing in historical context and its abolition in Turkey
Tünaydın, Pelin (2014) Rescuing the bears, silencing the bear leaders: bear dancing in historical context and its abolition in Turkey. [Thesis]
The history of bear dancing seems to have accompanied the earliest encounters between humans and bears. As a form of public entertainment, the practice of bear dancing was professed by the Gypsies/Roma in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, as well as in many other countries. In recent decades, however, it became a site of contestation in more than one respect: animal protection, but more primarily ethnic discrimination and visions of urbanism and tourism. In the early 1990s, Turkey witnessed a bear rescue campaign pioneered by an international animal protection organization, with various Turkish governmental, municipal and non-governmental bodies acting in concert. From the animal protectionist view, the campaign was a long overdue intervention to free the bears from pain and enslavement for the sake of human entertainment. On the other hand, the abolition seems to have been a welcome opportunity in the eyes of the Turkish state to purify the streets of İstanbul and other cities from the sight that visiting tourists first encountered and thus complicated the image of the country that officials wished foreign tourists to take back home. The demise of bear dancing owes more to the latter than to a well-informed concern for the welfare of animals, both revealing and reproducing lasting prejudices against the Roma. Based on interviews with former bear leaders, this thesis explores the multi-faceted dynamics underlying the abolition of bear dancing in Turkey.
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