Middle East Gypsies
Dom Research Workshop
The term “Gypsy” is used all over the world to define a societal group. Non-gypsy people called them with different generic names in different regions or languages: Nawar, Zott, Ghajar, Bareke, Beni Murra, Gaodari, Krismal, Qarabana, Karaçi, Abdal, Aşiret, Qurbet, Mıtrıp, Gewende, Poşa, Abdal, Tanjirliyah, Haddadin, Haciye, Arnavut, Halebi, Haramshe and Kaoli. Despite all these various names, the term Gypsy is usually used to include them all. These names often refer to the community’s “origin, tribe or profession” but usually used as a derogatory epithet. For instance the word “Nawar” is a very common word in Arabic world which is used as an insult. The word “Çingene” is a derogatory epithet in Turkish language. The Persians use the word “Koli” (meaning those from Kabul) to the same effect. Gypsy is not only a name defining a society, but is an “adjective” which devaluates and marginalizes this society by its own merits.
The name Gypsy is used to identify craftsmen/peripatetic nomad communities which are also called Roma/Rom in Europe, “Dom” in Middle East and North Africa; and “Lom” in Armenia, Caucasus and Northern Anatolia.
According to widely accepted assumptions, the Dom started the “great walk” for various reasons (wars, famine, etc) between 7th and 10th C from today’s India and Pakistan. It is believed that for centuries the Indian Nomads, i.e. the Dom (means “human” in India) scattered around the world whom the other peoples of the world named Gypsies.
Today, the Dom communities live in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. The Dom identify themselves as citizens (like Lebanese, Jordanian, Iranian, etc.). The exact number of their population is unknown yet, it is estimated that the Dom population in Middle Eastern countries is around 5 million.
Thanks to their frequent travels, Dom communities are often multilingual communities who can speak two-three different languages. In addition to the language of the host country, they speak Domari, a variant of Indian languages, between themselves. The existence of the Domari language is still continued through oral traditions. In Middle East, the term “Nawari” is usually used as the synonym of the Domari in Arab society. In addition to the Middle Eastern and North African countries, Domari is spoken also in Afghanistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.
1- Yılgür, E., 2018 A Treatise on Craftsmen Nomads (Peripatetic Tribes) in Balkans, Anatolia and Mesopotamia (in Turkish) http://www.ka.org.tr/dosyalar/file/Yayinlar/KaDergi/KAdergi8.pdf
2- Williams, G. A., Dom of the Middle East http://www.domresearchcenter.com/journal/11/dom.html#Eleven
The Gypsy societies are termed “peripatetic” in the field of anthropology. Peripatetic refers to communities with high level of mobility who are encountered by urban, rural or pastoral societies at regular intervals. These communities are known as nomadic craftsmen. They are usually described as “non-food-producing nomads” known to practice crafts as musicians, basket makers, whitesmiths, hammersmiths, weavers, magicians, fortune tellers and animal tamers. They are defined as communities with a high level of spatial mobility having various ethnic origins, speaking different languages, having in-group marriages, producing-selling various products and earning their livelihood from providing different services. Throughout the history, there has always been communities providing services, especially providing tools to hunter-gatherer, animal farming or agriculture-based societies. The relationship between the peripatetic communities and greater society to whom they provide services, is often identified as those between mutually dependent actors.
Peripatetic communities had to change their livelihood strategies with the development of capitalist relations and industry. The devaluation of traditional crafts directed the communities to different works. Dom can be seen among the harvest workers in the Jordan Valley or among the workers harvesting tobacco in the north of Jordan. In Turkey they work as seasonal agricultural workers and waste- refuse collectors. In the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon they work as agricultural workers In Middle Eastern countries they are musicians and dancers in the entertainment industry. In Syria, they are metalworkers. In some countries such as Iraq they maintain a nomadic life as musicians, jugglers and acrobats travelling from one village to another with donkeys and camel trains. There are also the ones quitting nomadism and settled to cities as well as the ones living in a semi-nomadic way. In Beirut, in the region known as Sabra and Shatila and Dom communities live together with Palestinians and other migrants. At these regions, houses built by rubbles, garbage heaps, ruined and damp cottages and thousands of electric cables covering the sky form a world where the people at the bottom of the society hold on to life without accessing employment, education and healthcare.
A part of the community still maintains a nomadic life in Middle East. In some part of the year, they stay in “Gypsy” neighborhoods of the cities and go back to their tents in the rest of the year. On the streets of villages, towns and cities they name themselves as craftsmen, sellers, fortune tellers, dentists, bladesmiths, whitesmiths and dancers.
Some part of those who embraced dwelling can access the opportunities for better education and steadier employment. Nonetheless, most of the Dom cannot find a job simply because of their ethnic identity. Their children cannot access education. Most of the time children try to provide economic support to their families by begging or paddling on the streets.
In Middle- Eastern cultures the Dom society was deprived of political representation, access to employment opportunities and even access to citizenship rights in the countries they live because of their nomadic life style, Indo-Aryan ethnic origin and Domari language.
Especially the processes of conflict during the last 30 years, the political and social turmoil and violence after the political and physical destruction of Syria and Iraq led to a process of fraction in the Dom society.
The Dom society living in the Middle East is composed of sub-tribes and divided into groups made of large families living together. These groups made of 5-15 families live a communal life. Even though they seem to live in independent tents or houses in the first sight, the tradition of co-habitation and sharing continues to a great extent. The leaders governing and directing the group are also responsible from the contacts with the external world. This communal life also protects this withdrawn society against external dangers. The ancient tradition is maintained by this way. The reason why there is almost no sense of private property, the in-group compensation of individual-familial lack and absence, the protection of especially women and children, the resistance to difficult living conditions, therefore briefly existing despite the social, economic system created by gadjos* and the resistance to assimilation throughout centuries results from this communal life.
the union of the family is broken in turbulent eras caused by war or conflict, force these families and individuals to a world they are completely ignorant of given the lack of necessary skills to live by oneself. When groups are shattered, the social body is shattered in return. Individuals forced to enter into a system they have no clue about, to meet their vital needs such as unemployment, lack of accommodation and food, face dangers unbeknown to them.
Children paddling things, women begging and men desperately seeking any employment that they can find in the street rapidly slide or rather pushed into the criminal life. The Dom communities, scattered groups and dispersed families become exposed to all kinds of threats.
The anti-gypsy tendencies are still strong in the Middle Eastern Countries and ethnical and religious groups within these countries. The gypsy communities in these countries strive to maintain the peripatetic, i.e. craftsmen life, at different extents in different countries. Especially in countries like Jordan, existence of the nomadic Bedouin/ Bedewi Arabs allowed room for some Dom communities still maintaining nomadic life as traveling ironsmiths, musician and traditional dentists. The majority of the community adapted to the new professions and markets and work as seasonal agricultural workers or engage in small trade between countries. In these countries these communities are not accepted to the public areas and are pushed to the distant suburbs or rural areas out of the sight of dwellers. Their access to public services such as education for children, healthcare, electricity and clean water is extremely limited. Crowded gypsy groups such as Dom and Abdal are called the Nawar. Nawar is mostly used as an adjective rather than a name. An adjective that more than hints at many prejudices and bias. This has been going on for hundreds of years and caused marginalization of Dom and other relevant groups. Bias towards the gypsies, continues to be an issue within Middle Eastern societies, much similar to any other country in the world.
In Middle Eastern countries, strong political decisions to transform and to improve the social structure are rare commodity. Practically there is zero effort on capacity increase of the Non-Governmental Organizations for their efforts related to the Dom, training to the public authorities, training to law enforcement and public service administrations and awareness raising.
The Roma, Dom and Lom communities who are collectively known as gypsies and whose roots go back to India are known in anthropology as “peripatetic societies”. Peripatetic societies are those which do not produce their own food, but get it from other communities in exchange for providing certain arts and services and which are highly mobile by comparison with the other communities (Yılgür, 2016; Kenrick, 2006). For hundreds of years these communities have been supplying various services to settled societies and even to rural migratory communities, constantly on the move, living alongside other societies, and striking a balance between a nomadic and s semi-nomadic life (Kenrick, 2006). According to widely accepted hypotheses, the Dom (later Roma and Lom) Indian migrants who let India and Pakistan for various reasons (such as war or famine) between the 7th and 10th centuries and embarked on the “great walk”, and who have been spreading across the globe for hundreds of years, have been named Gypsies by other societies. The meanings attached to the word Gypsy, which was given to them by others, not by the Gypsies themselves (Fraser, 2005), have resulted in those same other people attaching derogatory connotations to the word, contributing to their exclusion. Recently, due to the negative connotations associated with the word Gypsy, it has been common within the Gypsy community to assert the use of the terms Roma/Romany instead. On the other hand, it is clear that the appellation Roma cannot represent Lom or Dom groups. In recent years, with the new identity building process of the Dom society, the use of the terms Dom has become widespread. The diferent names of Gypsy tribes (Roma, Lom, Dom) which are still used today have to do with their dates of departure from India, the routes they adopted and the class and caste diferences that applied among them there.
The societies with which these groups coexisted gave these dark, dark-haired migratory people who practiced metalwork, basket-making, music, soothsaying and dentistry names such as Gypsy, Mitrip, Kipti, Sinti, Zigeuner, Zingari, Tigani and Gitane. In their own languages, these groups called themselves Dom, Rom or Lom within themselves. According to various sources, all three words mean ‘man’, ‘person’ or ‘human’ in their own languages (Kenrick, 1993; Kolukırık, 2008). Today, in some regions of India, one of the castes is called Dom.
Around the world it has been observed that the migratory lifestyle faces discrimination, and that peripatetic migrants plying crats and trades are the focus of much greater prejudice than rural migrants who raise cattle or sheep. The story of Abel and Cain contained in the sacred books is an indicator that settled societies’ fear of migratory peoples goes back to the beginning of civilisation (Kenrick, 2006).
The way of life and traditions which these communities have upheld over the centuries has led to the emergence of a distinct social memory. The way in which they have managed to tightly control the boundaries between themselves and other societies, and so been able to survive for centuries, should be seen as a great achievement (Kenrick, 2006). They have beliefs rooted in India which posit a strong value system based on purity and corruption. The relationship of members of the community with others (strangers, Gadjo) and the world is based on protecting their purity and cleanliness of the soul. This necessitates maintaining one’s distance from the other and the system created by the other and to remain neutral in the face of evils created by the other’s world. This belief naturally leads to a new way of life and the tradition borne by social memory needs to constantly take in new elements and renew itself. While the community constantly maintains boundaries against the outside world it must necessarily take in other beliefs, languages and music in order to provide them as services to the other ater mingling them with its own. Diferences have always been jealously protected. Tradition allows for these communities to
keep themselves separate from the other – the stranger or Gadjo. This has led to the centuries-old world of two distinct human communities which on the surface live together but have never intertwined. Examples can be found in the speciicities of music, dance, belief and profession that characterise Gypsies living in many places around the world today. These arts-and-crats communities need to target a very large consumer base for the goods and services they provide. Until the early 20th century, the societies that coexisted with the Gypsies were largely migratory themselves. The diference between them and the Gypsies was that while the former migrated for agriculture and husbandry, the latter led a migratory lifestyle to display their goods and ofer their services. Actually, the Gypsies’ migratory lifestyle difered most in that they had their “homes on their backs”.
The Dom communities in our day live in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Dom define themselves as citizens rather than being of Dom identity (therefore as Lebanese, Jordanian, Irani etc.) Even though their actual number is unknown it is estimated that there are approximately 5 million Dom populations in Middle Eastern countries.
The Dom community is a community speaking two-three different languages due to their migration to different countries. In addition to the language of the host country, they speak Domari, their Indian rooted language inside the family and community. Domari language still continues in a strong way through oral traditions. The term “Nawari” in Arab society in Middle East is used as the synonym of Domari. In addition to the Middle Eastern and North African countries, Domari is spoken also in Afghanistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.
The Dom communities live in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. The Dom identify themselves as citizens (like Lebanese, Jordanian, Iranian, etc.). The exact number of their population is unknown yet, it is estimated that the Dom population in Middle Eastern countries is around 5 million.
Due to the lack of official statistics and reliable estimates, the total number of Gypsies (Dom, Lom and Rom or sub-groups such as Abdals) is not known. According the Council of Europe, the tht total number estimated varies between 500.000 and 5 Million.
A great part of Gypsies live in the Western regions of Turkey whereas Dom and Lom groups mostly live in South-Eastern and Eastern regions. The Dom form a different linguistic group of Indian origin who speak Domari. Today Dom societies mainly live in Middle East and North Africa. In Turkey Dom groups generally live in the South-East of the country. They are mostly composed of semi-nomadic or nomadic groups even though some has adopted city life and their population is over 500 thousand. They are a multi-lingual community who in addition to their native language speaks the languages of people living in the areas they live (Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish). The Dom who dealt with crafts such as ironworking, metal-work, leather-work, basketry, dentistry, circumcision practice, musicianship, fortune telling for centuries today lost these professions since the lost their validity and they led to different professions. These communities who live a nomadic life to practice these professions adopted the semi-nomadic life in the last 50 years. These communities, who have been providing handcrafts to the other people they live together, gradually became unemployed due to increasing population and ever-developing industry and mass production. Today, they do seasonal agricultural work, waste-refuse collection and daily work in almost every region of Turkey.
The Dom society in Syria lived together with other people for centuries. The community composed of groups living a peripatetic life, provided services for the communities they live together with their traditional crafts such as musicianship, ironwork, traditional dentistry, woodwork, strainer making, basketry, metalwork and peddling. By the change and development in the production system these communities were directed to new professions such as seasonal agricultural labor, waste and refuse collection or they changed and renew their traditional crafts. For example, hammersmiths started to forge cold iron and produce doors, windows, arrows and construction forging. Musician groups started to take part in the entertainment industry and to take stage in wedding ceremonies and night clubs. Traditional dentists from Syria moved to the other countries of Middle East and continued their profession there. Peddler and hawker Dom community members used to carry on an important amount of trade by doing commercial travels between Gulf countries and Syria before the war.
A great part of the Dom society living in Syria are documented as Syrian citizens. The interviews made on this subject reveal that especially the communities who embraced the dwellers’ life did not have any problems regarding citizenship certificates and the children could receive primary education.
Part of the communities leads an informal life, without individual identity cards, passports and even birth certificates specially to avoid compulsory military service. Dur to long compulsory military service time the members of the group avoided population registries. Another reason for not being registered is the fact that they cannot comprehend the meaning of borders in Middle East, where they lived for centuries. The Dom live in the centuries-old Middle Eastern geography without borders and migrate from Iran to Egypt, from Anatolia to Gulf for centuries.
Dom communities are not homogenous even though they share a common history in Middle East. As they do in other countries, the communities in Lebanon display differences in terms of language and living conditions. Even though Dom communities in Lebanon live intensively in Sidon, Beirut, Tyre, Jubayl, Tripoli and Beqaa Valley, a lot of families spread to the whole country.
Lebanon is historically a central point and junction for Syria and other countries of Middle East. Even today Dom communities migrate to Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Palestine and other Gulf countries. Today, a part of the Dom groups living in Lebanon, consists “Phalestinian Doms” migrated from Palestine. Families who live in Sabra and Shatila towns, identify themselves as Phlestinians.
There are still modern nomadic Dom groups who travel between the neighboring countries, without a regard to the modern borders. Particularly before the civil war in Syria, most of the Dom communities had crossed the border and came to Bekaa Vadis and Tripoli, northern Lebanon, to work in seasonal agricultural work and other daily jobs.
They live together with Palestinian refugees and Lebanese people who are living in poverty in tents and cottages in Beqaa Valley and in squatter areas in Beirut and other cities. To conceal their real identity, they introduce themselves as Turkmens, Syrians and Arab-Bedouins. They struggle with fundamental problems such as access to healthy accommodation, clean water, drainage system, electricity, school and healthcare services.
There are Dom individuals with formal employment and occupations among the city-dwelling doms, most of them work as gathering donation on streets, playing drums, flute or other instruments in weddings and parties. Especially in night clubs, many Dom musicians work, especially in the entertainment industry in the Middle East musicians have an important place..
Dom children work to support their families economically by selling candies, nuts, chewing gums instead of going to schools. Despite the existence of non-governmental organizations making an effort for the education of these children, the government does not have an edu-cation program.
Some Dom maintain their traditional crafts by adjusting their profession to the requirements of the modern day.
Some men from the community produce a one-string instrument called Rababa. Additionally producers of the wooden plates used to crush coffee beans, hammersmiths producing traditional Arabic daggers and traditional dentists still work actively. Musician groups still perform their art and whicle men play musical instruments women sing and dance. Some of them travel for commercial reasons to Gulf countries.
Studies regarding the Dom society in Jordan , reveal that the Dom society living here is composed of five large families among which Tamarzeh tribe is the biggest who categorize themselves as Jordanian Dom since they were living in the country before the establishment of the country. Other four tribes are Ka’akov, Ga’agreh, Balahayeh and Nawasfeh. Other communities forming Gypsy population are composed of the communities coming from Palestine (Western Bank and Gaza) and mainly communities from Iraq and Syria. Dom com-munities living in Jordan name themselves as Bani Murrah. Additionally Abdal communities migrate between countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq for hundreds of years. After the Syrian civil war tens of Abdal communities took shelter in Jordan. Jordan has previously received intense Dom migration flux just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Dom population in Jordan continues to be mobile since Jordan is the most stable country in the Region. While some of them move within the country borders through the Jordan Valley, some groups follow a longer migration route towards Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Most of the nomadic or semi-nomadic families live in tents under very primitive living conditions without access to water or electricity. The society has major problems especially in accessing clean water. Rents given to the camp area, daily prices for drinking water, gas, electricity, health services and education of children become prominent as the basic problems of Dom Society.
As it is in the other Middle Eastern countries, the Gypsies are not accepted by Jordanian society because of reasons such as racist prejudices and lack of communication. The inefficacy of the programs developed by Jordanian government and civil society reinforce the racial prejudices that the Dom society is subjected to and lead them to hide their identities. Negative images overshadow the countless constructive contributions of the Dom society to the Jordanian society. The effects of societal isolation continue to be seen in hiding ethnic identities.
Lacking either identity-based categorization or statistical representation, it is almost impossible to estimate the size of Egypt’s Dom population. The main providers of data are evangelical organizations, who estimate the group to include between one and two million people, most of whom are Muslim. Doms in Egypt are divided into different sub-groups or tribes, a concept which is also more meaningful in a Middle Eastern context. Among the tribes names are the Ghagar, the Nawar, the Halebi – words which are also insults in Arabic. Evangelical organizations suggest that Ghagar, which means “vagrant,” may be the largest group of Egyptian Doms.
Since the Doms do not exist officially, there has been no attempt to either eradicate or assimilate them. In Europe, forced integration and marginalization seem to be the only two possible outcomes for the Roma groups, whose nomadism has often been perceived as defiance, or affinity with adverse allegiances. In Egypt, by contrast, nomadism has been historically an integrated aspect of the Egyptian society, even if nomads have been throughout the twentieth century regarded as anachronistic; furthermore, nomadism in the Middle East has mostly been associated with Bedouins and nomadic pastoralists, not with Gypsies.
While there are no accurate figures for the number of Dom in Iraq, estimates suggest the population totals 60,000 people primarily residing on the outskirts of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. Other estimates suggest the figure is between 50,000 and 200,000. The human rights situation for the Dom in Iraq is dire, with many internally displaced or forcibly removed from their settlements.
The Dom lack state protection and are subjected to abuse, stigmatisation and marginalisation, particularly affecting women and children. The treatment of the Dom deteriorated significantly after 2003, due in part to a perception that they supported former President, Saddam Hussein. With a lack of civil documentation many Dom are stateless or at risk of statelessness.
 Avrupa’da Roman nüfusuna ilişkin tahminleri içeren bir tablo için Avrupa Konseyi’nin web sayfasına bakabilirsiniz: http://hub.coe.int/web/coe-portal/roma.
 Adrian Marsh, “Türkiye Çingenelerinin Tarihi Hakkında”, Biz Buradayız! Türkiye’de Romanlar, Ayrımcı Uygulamalarve Hak Mücadelesi, derleyen Savelina Danova (Istanbul: ERRC/hYd/EDROM, 2008) içinde; Domari dili
için, “Romani Project” web sayfasına bakınız: http://romani.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/atmanchester/projects/domari.shtml.
 CHILDREN LIVING AND WORKING ON THE STREETS IN LEBANON: PROFILE AND MAGNITUDE
The Dom People and their Children in Lebanon http://www.insanassociation.org/en/images/The_Dom_People_and_their_Children_in_lebanon.pdf
 Williams, G. A., The Current Situation of the Dom in Jordan http://www.domresearchcenter.com/journal/18/jordan8.html