Egemen Yilgur

Ashoka Fellow
Turkey,
Fellow Since 2008
Cingeneyiz

Citation

This profile was prepared when Egemen Yilgur was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Egemen has built the first of its kind media forum produced for Romanis by Romanis to counter the discriminatory, stereotypical Romani caricatures portrayed in mainstream media. His online platform, “We are Gypsies”, provides a public space for all issues Roma and is managed by volunteers, many of them Romani youth. The website aims to increase the Roma people’s knowedge of newsworthy items in their communities—from stories that celebrate individual success and highlight the richness of their culture to those featurning the challenges they continue to face. Incidents of discrimination and abuse—no matter how minor—are reported by volunteers, disseminated, and discussed. More importantly, We are Gypsies encourages civic activism within the Roma communtiy and provides information and avenues for the Roma people to address discrimination and a range of social problems that until recently, they have felt powerless to address. It provides a safe place where Romanis can dialogue with non-Roma Turks and challenge pervasive stereotypes. Egemen believes that only when Romanis confront the deep bias and prejudices towards them—much of which has been internalized and translates into a low self-worth—will they be able to control their destiny.

Egemen has mobilized 150 volunteer contributors who post stories, manage the website and its content, and facilitate discussions. Each contribution teaches young Romanis important civic skills, builds strong ties to an organization, and provides an outlet to express the positive characteristics of their identity and culture. As the site has grown, news is gathered and translated from other Roma communities around the world.

Most of the citizen groups that work with Roma communities deal with symptoms of bias and discrimination and not the bias itself. Egemen’s work is unique because he reframes the problem, and because his work is truly bottom-up. His is the only Romani-led organization specifically targeting discrimination in Turkey. Importantly, he also recognizes the limits of the web. The purpose of the site is to inform and create a space as a point of departure from which Romanis will ulimately take targeted social action. To this end, he has created an action-oriented assembly and is in the initial stages of crafting its mandate.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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