2. Historical and political context: “Çingene” and “Roman

As this article focuses on cultural practices that create, maintain and contest social designations, the use of terms here also reflects the varieties of designations and their contested meanings. My use of “gypsy” without capitalization and in quotes signals an ironic use of the negative cover term as used by non-Roman. In Western European languages, the term “gypsy” and a variety of misnomer cognates have been used to conflate what in fact exist in great diversity, varieties of traditions, and cultural practices of people who in practice designate themselves according to many different terms. One group of terms is taken from in-group designations for “person”, such as Rom, Lom, Dom, or Manush. Transnational political movements since the 1970s have added additional possibilities for self-designation for local communities. In the wake of the World Romani Congress 1971, community leaders decided to use Rom and Roma from the European Romanes language as a cover term for ethnic communities variously known as Rom, Sinti, Manush, or other historically-accepted in-group names. The use of such terms have aided groups who have been misunderstood and negatively stereotyped by outsiders and government officials under various misnomers as derivative of putative origins from Egypt (“gypsy” “yiftos”) or derivatives from the various permutations of the Byzantine Greek athinganoi (such as çingene, tsigani, etc.). At the World Romani Congress, the control over self-designation was part of a larger move towards self-empowerment, along with the creation of a flag, anthem, and long-term language policy plans (cf. Hancock 1998).

Within the relatively bounded territory of Turkey, communities continue to use a variety of self-designations, alongside the newer politically charged neologism Roman (cf. Duygulu 1995). The plethora of terms is due to a variety of factors. These include terms that derive from outsider designations, draw from in-group language practices, reference Turkish-language occupational designations, and designate putative geographical origins. The commonly used contemporary Turkish term, “çingene”, carries many derogatory associations. Based on a Greek Byzantine misnomer, athinganoi, the term was shortened to “çingene” and embedded in the Turkish language while carrying many negative historical associations (cf. section 4 below). Similarly in Ottoman Turkish, groups were referred to as kıpti from the word for Copt, referencing putative Egyptian origins. In-group terms also distinguish between Rom, Lom and Dom, marking the dialect differences between the Romanes/Lomavren language word for “person”. Various groups also may refer to themselves by (predominantly Greek) geographic origin (i.e., “Serezli” or “from Serres”; “Dramalı” for those from Drama or Selanikli for those from the wider Northeastern region around Thessalonica).

Still others use self-designations based on family-based occupations, even when individual trade practices have changed, such as “Demirci” for tin smith; “Kalaycı” for copper smith; “Çiçekci” for flower-seller; “Çalgacı” for instrumental musician. The neologism Roman has been increasingly used by some communities in Western Turkey since the 1980s, alongside and sometime replacing older designations. However, acceptance of the term Roman continues to be uneven. One highly successful studio musician told me that he proudly refers to himself as “Çingene”, and does not accept the validity of Roman. Some self-designated Roman community members will use the negative term, “çingene” as an in-group insult, such as in an exchange I witnessed after a recording session in which the (Roman) group leader said, “Those çingene can’t play in tune!”

Due to the importance of terminological self-determination, I use “gypsy” or other outsider terms such as the Turkish “çingene” in quotes as an indicator of designations that come from outside the Rom/Roman communities. In this article and other writings I use the term, Roman, which is preferred by Turkish Roman communities with whom I worked in Western Turkey. This term has been expressive of growing grass-roots consciousness of pan-communal identity and self-empowerment since the 1970s.

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