Morocco's Meanderings

My Photo
Location: New York, New York, United States

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Madonna Booed for Mentioning Discrimination Agains Roma in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania - At first, fans politely applauded the Roma performers sharing a stage withMadonna. Then the pop star condemned widespread discrimination against Roma, or Gypsies — and the cheers gave way to jeers.

The sharp mood change that swept the crowd of 60,000, who had packed a park for Wednesday night's concert, underscores how prejudice against Gypsies remains deeply entrenched across Eastern Europe.

Despite long-standing efforts to stamp out rampant bias, human rights advocates say Roma probably suffer more humiliation and endure more discrimination than any other people group on the continent.

Sometimes, it can be deadly: In neighboring Hungary, six Roma have been killed and several wounded in a recent series of apparently racially motivated attacks targeting small countryside villages predominantly settled by Gypsies.

"There is generally widespread resentment against Gypsies in Eastern Europe. They have historically been the underdog," Radu Motoc, an official with the Soros Foundation Romania, said Thursday.

Roma, or Gypsies, are a nomadic ethnic group believed to have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. They live mostly in southern and eastern Europe, but hundreds of thousands have migrated west over the past few decades in search of jobs and better living conditions.

Romania has the largest number of Roma in the region. Some say the population could be as high as 2 million, although official data put it at 500,000.

Until the 19th century, Romanian Gypsies were slaves, and they've gotten a mixed response ever since: While discrimination is widespread, many East Europeans are enthusiastic about Gypsy music and dance, which they embrace as part of the region's cultural heritage.

That explains why the Roma musicians and a dancer who had briefly joined Madonna onstage got enthusiastic applause. And it also may explain why some in the crowd turned on Madonna when she paused during the two-hour show — a stop on her worldwide "Sticky and Sweet" tour — to touch on their plight.

"It has been brought to my attention ... that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and Gypsies in general in Eastern Europe," she said. "It made me feel very sad."

Thousands booed and jeered her.

A few cheered when she added: "We don't believe in discrimination ... we believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone." But she got more boos when she mentioned discrimination against homosexuals and others.

"I jeered her because it seemed false what she was telling us. What business does she have telling us these things?" said Ionut Dinu, 23.

Madonna did not react and carried on with her concert, held near the hulking palace of the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Her publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said Madonna and other had told her there were cheers as well as jeers.

"Madonna has been touring with a phenomenal troupe of Roma musicians who made her aware of the discrimination toward them in several countries so she felt compelled to make a brief statement," Rosenberg said in an e-mail. "She will not be issuing a further statement."

One Roma musician said the attitude toward Gypsies is contradictory. "Romanians watch Gypsy soap operas, they like Gypsy music and go to Gypsy concerts," said Damian Draghici, a Grammy Award-winner who has performed with James Brown and Joe Cocker.

"But there has been a wave of aggression against Roma people in Italy, Hungary and Romania, which shows me something is not OK," he told the AP in an interview. "The politicians have to do something about it. People have to be educated not to be prejudiced. All people are equal, and that is the message politicians must give."

Nearly one in two of Europe's estimated 12 million Roma claimed to have suffered an act of discrimination over the past 12 months, according to a recent report by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency. The group says Roma face "overt discrimination" in housing, health care and education.

Many do not have official identification, which means they cannot get social benefits, are undereducated and struggle to find decent jobs.

Roma children are more likely to drop out of school than their peers from other ethnic groups. Many Romanians label Gypsies as thieves, and many are outraged by those who beg or commit petty crimes in Western Europe, believing they spoil Romania's image abroad.

In May 2007, Romanian President Traian Basescu was heard to call a Romanian journalist a "stinky Gypsy" during a conversation with his wife. Romania's anti-discrimination board criticized Basescu, who later apologized.

Human rights activists say the attacks in Hungary, which began in July 2008, may be tied to that country's economic crisis and the rising popularity of far-right vigilantes angered by a rash of petty thefts and other so-called "Gypsy crime." Last week, police arrested four suspects in a nightclub in the eastern city of Debrecen.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia also have been criticized for widespread bias against Roma. Madonna's outrage touched a nerve in Romania, but it seems doubtful it will change anything, said the Soros Foundation's Motoc. "Madonna is a pop star. She is not an expert on interethnic relations," he said.

(AP Writers Alison Mutler in Bucharest, William J. Kole in Vienna and Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York contributed to this report.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


BAGHDAD, Oct. 29 — The members of the national dance troupe of Iraq are performers without an audience. They rehearse daily, but hardly ever put on a show.

Yet each turn of the hip and dip at the waist in their choreographed pieces has become weighted with a dangerous new reality, even as they wait for the chaos around them to subside so they can perform again. In today’s Iraq, with conservative religious parties and radical militias exerting growing influence over every aspect of life, even dancing is an act of bravery.

“Society is overwhelmed by these religious ideologies,” said Tariq Ibrahim, a male dancer in the Baghdad troupe, the Iraqi National Folklore Group. “Now a woman on the street without a head scarf attracts attention. What about a woman onstage dancing?”

Together they are a band of 10 women and 15 men from varied religious backgrounds. Once they toured the world together. Today they are simply trying to survive, hoping one day to thrive again as a troupe. But the religiosity sweeping Iraq does not bode well for their future.

Female participation in folk dancing is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, has issued strict guidelines against dancing in various situations. The country’s Shiite-led government, the dancers said, is naturally trying to marginalize them.

“Religion in its essence does not match with art,” said Fouad Thanoon, the group’s director and lead choreographer. “So when religion and government come together, that will affect art very much.”

The group has more immediate worries about extremists. Recently one of its members, Bushra Yousif, 21, a petite woman with delicate features who has been with the group for six years, received a note at home warning her to leave within 48 hours. A bullet was included in the envelope.

She was probably singled out because of her profession, she said, but she will continue to attend rehearsals every day. She loves dancing too much, she said describing it as the highest form of art to “deliver a message through your body.”

“Dying for this group would be like being martyred,” she said, adding that it is a risk she accepts.

The group, which began in 1971, is dedicated to preserving the folk-dancing heritage of Iraq, performing traditional dances drawn from across that country’s history and geography. The troupe’s first two decades were golden years, when dancers trained with master instructors from overseas and frequently went on international tours. In 1980 the dancers performed at the United Nations in New York and visited Paris. They have gone to Italy, Japan and China — 60 countries in all — and won numerous prizes along the way.

The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations in the early 1990s brought most of that to a halt. But just a year before the American-led invasion in 2003, the group enjoyed a rebirth with a burst of freedom under Saddam Hussein’s government, performing almost every week here.

“The audiences were huge,” Mr. Thanoon, the group’s director said. “The theaters were overbooked.”
But the group has been in suspended animation since the invasion began. It has performed just four times in Iraq and made two brief trips to Jordan and Dubai since 2003. The violence that surrounds it makes holding performances impossible.

“It is absurd,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “It is not logical to have a performance group that only practices.”

Maysoun al-Damalouji, an outspoken secular member of Parliament who was the Iraqi government’s senior deputy minister of culture until March, said she had worried about being able to protect the dancers, as well as others involved in artistic endeavors that were objectionable to certain religious groups.

“The dancers were not the only ones,” she said. “We were worried about having fashion shows because we had to protect the models. We found we couldn’t really do that. The best way of protecting them was not to have them shown in public.”

The dance troupe had mainly supported itself with ticket sales before the fall of Mr. Hussein’s government, but when performances ended that became impossible. The current government has not compensated for that loss, the dancers said. They receive tiny stipends, amounting to about $140 a month, but even that is not guaranteed. The money often does not come and is usually barely enough to cover each dancer’s rent. Because the dancers rehearse every day from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., it is almost impossible for them to get second jobs.

The present government, controlled by conservative religious parties, cares little for the arts, Ms. al-Damalouji said, so it is not inclined to support groups like the dance troupe.

In this climate the dancers said they must censor themselves. The group recently played a small role in a theatrical production in support of the country’s national reconciliation plan, put on for some employees of the Ministry of Culture, but Mr. Thanoon advised his dancers, for their own sake, to minimize any shaking of their hips or shoulders. The result was a rigid routine that seemed more martial than elegant.

“It should be like this,” Liqaa Shukr said, demonstrating with plenty of gyrating flourish. “Instead it is like this,” she said, switching to the languid movements they wound up performing.

Certain folk dances have been eliminated completely from the group’s repertory for performances inside Iraq because they might be considered too provocative.
“We need to match what’s going on now, not stand out,” said Najwa Subhi, another female dancer.

Most of the women in the group go to elaborate lengths to hide their occupation from their neighbors, even though some of their faces are well known in Iraq from their performances on television under the old government.
Ms. Subhi, who lives in a mostly Shiite neighborhood dominated by militiamen, said she told her neighbors that she had quit her dancing and was working as a receptionist. She told them that even Hannah Abdullah, one of the group’s founders and Iraq’s best-known dancer, had retired.

“I spread this idea that we are no longer dancing,” she said.

On a recent trip to Jordan for a cultural festival, she had her husband load her luggage in the car in the middle of the night. Even her husband’s family did not know that she was going to perform. She told them she was visiting her brother in Kirkuk.

Rana Anwar, who successfully auditioned for a spot in the troupe three months ago, has let her neighbors and friends continue to believe that she is still a student at a tourism institute in Baghdad.

“It is very hard with what’s going on to become a dancer,” she said. “But my main goal is to show Iraq is not a backward country. Iraqi people like to dance, they like to sing.”

So the dancers continue to practice daily in front of empty seats at the National Theater in central Baghdad. The dilapidated hall has become their sanctuary from the country’s tumult.

Dumoaa Jamal was with the group for 10 years, but her uncle forced her to quit after the invasion because he deemed it too dangerous. But she returned three months ago, and tries to allay his fears by making sure she comes to rehearsals dressed in inconspicuous clothing and a head scarf hiding her long flowing hair.

“I wish it could be 24 hours a day,” she said about the group’s rehearsals. “When I enter the theater, it is as if everything from outside is gone. It is as if I have entered a different world.”

She feels like a bird on stage, she said. Later, when she has donned her head scarf, scrubbed the makeup from her face and stepped outside, reality returns. There is no more dancing, only walking as invisibly as possible.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

NO TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Breaking Walls of Silence

By Marianne Rasmussen - First Published: December 6, 2007

November 25 marked the annual day for violence against women. It was also the beginning of a United Nations-led 16-day campaign entitled “Say NO to Violence Against Women”.

“Violence against women is always a violation of human rights, it is always a crime, and it is always unacceptable,” the Secretary-General of the United Nations stated in his message for the day, emphasizing the gravity of the phenomenon — a gravity which is reflected in the fact that one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused at least once in her lifetime; or by the fact that women aged 15 to 44 are more likely to die or suffer disability as a result of rape or domestic violence than from cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and Malaria.

Egypt is no exception when it comes to violence against women. According to a demographic health survey from a 2003 report quoted by Unicef, 97 percent of Egyptian women in reproductive age suffer female genital mutilation (FGM). Many women in the region, as elsewhere, continue to suffer abuse in terms of rape – within or outside marriage — or fall victim to “crimes of honor” with the perpetrators receiving lenient sentences.

A study made by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, shows that only 89 states had some form of legislative prohibition on domestic violence and only 60 states had specific domestic violence laws. Criminal law in the overwhelming majority of Arab countries considers rape to be an attack on public modesty/decency and not a crime against the person — the recent story of Saudi Arabia’s “Qatif Girl” is one example of this.

Such classification denotes women’s bodies and female sexuality as belonging to the family not to the individual women themselves. The notion of marital rape does not exist in Egypt, as the body of a married woman is “belongs” to her husband. This legislative gap is one of the reasons why violence against women is often ignored and rarely punished. The shame and stigma associated with sexual violence prevents most women from sharing their experiences. This increases feelings of isolation, which often prevent women from accessing the necessary healthcare or legal action. This “invisibility” of sufferers from most forms of violence against women allows many in positions of authority to shun their responsibility to set up support centers for victims, to train and appoint qualified staff to deal with the victims of VAW and punish the perpetrators.

There is one particular aspect of violence against women which is even less noted than the abuse itself — the perpetrators. The actors, motives and rationales behind the crimes disappear in the legal system and are absent from public debate. They are even absent from the concept of violence against women itself.

A less common name of the phenomenon of violence against women is male violence against women, underlining that the violator is a man. The term “male violence” does not, however, sufficiently grasp the scope and variety of the forms violence against women. Female genital mutilation is an example of systematic, institutionalized violence carried out everyday by women as well as men.

Another example of structural and institutionalized violence is when violence against women is used as a weapon of war. According to Amnesty International, 70 percent of the casualties in recent conflicts have been non-combatants; 80 percent of these are women and children. Even as you read this, women in conflict zones such as the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are reported to be subject to some inconceivable forms of violence. These include keeping women tied up for months, using them as sex slaves, mutilating their bodies, or forcing them to submit to gang rape carried out by their sons, fathers or brothers. Why? Because sexualized violence directed at women, demonstrates the strength of the aggressors, and the powerlessness of their adversaries to protect their women. Women survivors face great difficulties reintegrating into their families and communities, given that societies, in many cases consider them as bearers of their families’ dishonor rather than seeing them as victims.

One of the steps needed to put an end to the systematized and widespread violence is to recognize that it is a problem and that attention must be paid to its root causes. This means acknowledging it is a structural phenomenon, not caused solely by individual men.

It can be argued that it is caused by the historical imbalance of power relations in patriarchal societies between women and men and the resulting domination over, and discrimination against women by men. At the same time both gender-relations and the concept of masculinity need to be critically scrutinized. Individual men’s violence against women is at times excused by a public perception of male sexuality and psyche as being inherently aggressive. States of mind such as jealousy or desire serve as arguments to assuage the punishment and consequences of sexualized violence, and label it as “a crime of passion”.

The fact that the United Nations has marked a special day for violence against women gives hope that things are moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, we can all help to end this violence by acknowledging that the persistence and tolerance of the phenomenon is a fundamental obstacle to women’s full advancement. Men need to foster and encourage a perception of masculinity rooted in responsibility, care and sincere respect for women rather than dominance and aggression.

Women need to find the strength, self-esteem and self-respect within themselves to acknowledge that they are active subjects rather than the de-humanized, passive objects that all violations ultimately turn them into.

Marianne Rasmussen is a Danish journalist currently interning with the United Nations Information Center in Cairo.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Truth About What Happened in Cairo


Here's what happened to me in Cairo this last trip - it's gonna be long and a bit gross (sorry), so put down the sandwich ...

Before this Cairo Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival I had NEVER missed a seminar class (and only ONE performance - due to a taxi accident) - in over 47 years!

I had to cancel BOTH my classes in Cairo and my performance because I was seriously ill and almost died - I was 2 hrs away from bleeding to death internally and spent almost a week in the Anglo-American hospital in Cairo. Thank heavens I took out travel health insurance!!!

It seems that totally unbeknownst to me, I had/ have TWO steadily bleeding duodenal ulcers, originally caused by MOTRIN (!!!!) I was taking when I taught for the Two Old Bags in Reno almost 3 years ago.... (BEWARE OF IBUPROFIN!!!)

The Motrin caused the first incident the Monday after that seminar, when I was spewing like Mt Vesuvius (gross!) which was misdiagnosed as gastritis. I thought I recovered.

Nothing really noticeable for almost 3 years - a little occasional indigestion that Mylanta and Pepcid calmed - till I went to teach in California in April (spent all Sat night barfing my guts up, but taught my classes nonetheless - fortunately there was no show)

Then a less violent incident in Nashville in May - after I had finished my teaching and show.

In June Delta totally stranded an entire planeful of passengers to Asheville, NC in Atlanta airport - including ME - with NO way of getting there till a sainted passenger said: "I'm renting a car and driving to Asheville, whos coming with me???"

THAT was how I got to my seminar and concert - 7 1/2 hours later than scheduled. Imagine the stress!!!

I'm NEVER voluntarily flying Delta again. Their excuse for no flight?? "The plane is here, but we can't find the crew." Repeated for over THREE and a HALF HOURS.

Add to that FIVE YEARS of continual auditing and harrassment/ extortion by the IRS and the schedule you see on my "Where's Rocky" page...

Left for Cairo Sunday, June 24 with my darling duckies ... Get to Cairo June 25, register my duckies for their classes while they were on a city tour & climbing the pyramids ... Opening Gala,

I'm feeling VERY nauseous - and not because of Nancy's god-awful, uncoordinated dancing boys. Went to my room and couldn't stop upchucking for 5 days. Gross!!! Could not eat a bite and still barfing away.

Called the Mena House's doctor, who gave me something called "Vomistop". It didn't. Went to the hospital he recommended because I was now barfing blood and even intrepid moi was scared.

They did an immediate endoscopy and discovered that my entire stomach was filled with congealed blood from the 2 slowly, steadily bleeding duodenal ulcers I didn't know I had, that blocked anything getting through.

Put me in the ICU in a private room, 24 hr nurses ....(same tacky green hospital "robe" and too damned much a.c.)

They said from the amount if clotted gook in there, it dated back almost 3 years. I did the math.

For 4 days I had a tube down my nose into my stomach, pumping up over 2 1/2 LITERS of congealed toxic sludge/ bloodclots. TOTAL grossout!

Saline and potassium drips to rehydrate & resupply my depleted electrolytes. No food, no water, no appetite, lots of books ... The best gastroenterologist in Cairo (cute too!)

He asked me why it had gotten so out of hand, that I was really 2 hrs away from dead when I got there, 'cause one more good barf and several vessels would've ruptured and I could only say I didn't feel a thing ...

So: It's not the way I'd've chosen to lose a few pounds., I'm out, on Nexium for a bit, back from Cairo, kickin' butt and taking names ...

Back in NYC 7/17 and gonna be lots more careful and lots less forgiving of things/ people who stress me out ...

One of the first things I gotta do is make out a Will ... then hire a tax lawyer and try and finish my darned book already.

Ciao for niao

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Tehran, 4 Jan. (AKI) - Habib Moftah Bushehri, an internationally renowned musician, has been sentenced to two years in jail in Iran on charges that his music offends Islam.

Bushehri, who lives in Paris where he performs with his group, the Ensemble Bushehri, had recently returned to Iran to visit his family.

The musician, who is well known with his group as a performer of folk music from southern Iran, is accused of offending religion with his melodies, which mix music performed during Islamic Shiite ceremonies with contemporary pieces, mainly jazz - a combination which has made him extremely popular.

The group's director Saiid Shanbehzadeh told Adnkronos International (AKI) that "for a long time the conservative media accused our group of heresy, apostasy and other crimes and this sentence therefore doesn't surprise us."

The Ensemble Bushehri had been awaiting Bushehri's return from Iran to leave for a new tour to Australia and New Zealand. "We will leave anyway for our tour because stopping now would mean giving in to what those who convicted Habib want," Shanbehzadeh told AKI.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Subject: Study: Some People are Born to Dance By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Feb. 21, 2006 - Professional dancers are born with at least two special genes that give them a leg up on the rest of us, according to a new study.

Recent research also has suggested that intelligence, athletic ability and musical talent are linked to our genes and brain hard-wiring.

With dancing added to the list, the evidence indicates that certain individuals are born with a predisposition to specific behaviors and talents, and that at least some of these qualities may represent evolved attributes.

"I think that dancing is an evolved trait," said Richard Ebstein, who led the recent study, published in a recent Public Library of Science Genetics journal. "Animals have courtship dances and I think that human dancing represents the further development of a very ancient animal trait."

Ebstein, a psychology professor at Hebrew University's Scheinfeld Center for Genetic Studies, said, "Also the fact that dancing is universal and existed in all human societies, even those communities of man separated geographically by tens of thousands of years (native Australians, native Americans, Africans, Eurasians) attests to the very early origin of dance in our evolution as a species."

Ebstein, doctoral student Rachel Bachner-Melman and their colleagues examined the DNA of 85 currently performing dancers and their parents. They then did the same thing for 91 competitive athletes and 872 people who neither regularly dance nor often participate in sports.

The scientists discovered that dancers tend to possess variants of two genes that are involved in the transmission of information between nerve cells.

One of the identified genes is a transporter of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience. The second is a receptor of the hormone vasopressin, which many studies suggest modulates social communication and human bonding.

"People are born to dance," Ebstein told Discovery News. "They have (other) genes that partially contribute to musical talent, such as coordination, sense of rhythm. However, the genes we studied are more related to the emotional side of dancing - the need and ability to communicate with other people and a spiritual side to their natures that not only enable them to feel the music, but to communicate that feeling to others via dance."

Ebstein believes some adults may possess the special gene variants, but they perhaps never nurtured the related skills or recognized their hidden talent.

He said, "Many of us surely have the ability, but for a hundred reasons never exploited that particular talent."

Ebstein explained that the identified genes seem to be linked to every form of dancing, from tap to hula, since all usually involve social communication and connecting to music or rhythms.

Irving Gottesman, a senior fellow in psychology at the University of Minnesota and an emeritus professor from the University of Virginia, is one of the world's leading experts on genes as they relate to human behavior and psychology.

Through prior research papers sent to Discovery News, Gottesman emphasized that genes are only one part of "complex causality" systems that make us who we are. For example, Gottesman confirmed that intelligence can be in our genes, but that socioeconomic considerations, such as a quality education, can have a greater influence on a person's intellect.

Ebstein agreed that genes were not the whole story. He said those of us without a twinkle-toed predisposition can still become good dancers, since "it's not only a question of having the right genes, but also training and motivation, that make professional dancers."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Plans to Demolish Sulukule - Istanbul's Roma Community!!!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 Nicolas Cheviron ISTANBUL - AFP

Their skimpily clad dancers and tireless musicians have fired up Istanbul nights for nearly a millennium -- now the Roma of Sulukule, two neighborhoods clinging to the Byzantine battlements of the old city, are fighting for survival.

The municipality of the Fatih district, on the European bank of Istanbul, says that by the end of the year, it will demolish 463 buildings it deems “insalubrious” and dangerous in case of earthquake and replace them with fancy, wood-paneled “Ottoman-style” housing.

“This is the most social project I've ever seen,” Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir told AFP. “We will buy the houses from the present owners and they can move into brand-new lodgings as soon as they're finished and pay off the difference over 15 years.”

Demir is proud of the project, describing the ancient, ramshackle wooden structures earmarked for demolition as “hovels you wouldn't dump coal in,” although they are home to 3,500 people, about 1,300 of them Roms.

But the residents of Sulukule say the municipal project will end the Roma presence in an area where they are on record as having lived since Byzantine times.

“If we borrow to buy the new homes, how will we repay?” asked Levent Demirbaş, 19 and jobless. “See that guy over there? He doesn't dare walk this street because he owes me seven lira” -- 3.75 euros, or US$4.75.

“The aim is to have rich people move in,” asserted Sukru Punduk, whose neighborhood association is seeking public support to save Sulukule, already decimated by first a 1960 earthquake and then the banning by conservative politicians in the 1990s of its typical neighborhood taverns.

“People here lived off music and fun, we were the coolest Roms in Turkey... now we earn nothing, we have to read by candlelight,” complained Punduk, who plays the darbuka, a calabash-shaped tambourine essential to Rom music.

Generations of Istanbul residents poured into Sulukule for their dose of music, booze and Oryantal dancing in an environment reminiscent of the catfight scene between buxom Rom lasses for the favors of James Bond in the 1963 movie “From Russia With Love.”

“You'd stick bills on the dancers' cosdtume and they'd come sit on your lap -- but it never went any further than that,” reminisced Aydin Boysan, an architect and a prominent author of popular Istanbul history.

“Those hellions really knew how to empty your wallet,” Boysan, at 85 still an energetic and tireless participant in Istanbul night life, added ruefully.

British researcher Adrian Marsh deplored more than just the disappearance of one of the most picturesque parts of this sprawling city of more than 12 million and the capital of three empires -- Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman.

What is at risk, he told AFP, is the oldest known settlement in the world of the nomadic Roma.

A Byzantine scribe first wrote in 1054 of “Egyptians” living in black tents pitched along the fortress walls and eking out an existence thanks to their oryantal dancers, fortune-tellers and dancing bears.

After Constantinople, as it was then known, fell to the Turks in 1453, Sulukule's dancers and musicians became fixtures of the nights of the opulent Ottoman court, explained Marsh, who is writing a thesis on Istanbul Roma.

“As far as we know, this is the oldest Rom community in the world,” he said. “Demolishing Sulukule is not the same as demolishing just any other gypsy slum, the way it happens all over Turkey and Europe -- it is the annihilation of the memory of an entire community.”