In 1910 the Members of Parliament in the new constitutional monarchy of the late Ottoman Empire debated, “What shall be done with the dogs?” Stray dogs roamed the streets of Constantinople, as they had done for centuries, at least back to the time when the city was called Byzantium. But at an estimated 50,000 – 80,000, the government decided there were too many of them. They posed a problem, and there had to be a solution. What was it?
Mary Mason Poynter, a ten-year resident of Constantinople wrote in the London newspaper, The Spectator, “To tell the truth, it hardly seems that this great canine population in the streets is up to date enough for a Turkey whose ruling Committee stands for union and progress. … But what shall we do without our dogs, those of us who have got accustomed to them, and are not wakened at night by their barks, and … who have got used to walking gingerly around them, especially if it be summer, as they lie at full length on the pavements? Then, too, we are really attached to our own especial clan of dogs that patrols before our door, and has a pleasant wag, and never a bite or bark for us as we go in and out.”
It didn’t matter how attached some people were to the sight of these famous/infamous dogs. The San Francisco Call reported that “detachments of policemen and sweepers armed with lassoes and wooden tongs, and followed by a train of dustcarts, have gone forth by night and raided the unsuspecting beasts. A few were spared at the intercession of individuals, who agreed to look after the dogs. The others were driven away to an unknown fate.”
Their fate was known about thirty years before when a previous attempt had been made to clear the city. Packs of dogs had been rounded up and left on an uninhabited island in the Sea of Marmora, but most swam back. In 1910 Poynter asked, “Shall they be sold now to France or Austria, who are bidding for them, or rather, for their skins? Shall they be banished again, the sexes being separated?” They were banished again. The Committee of Union and Progress decided on deportation to the Isle of Oxias (Sivriada today), one of the Prince Islands.
The Wairarapa Daily Times (New Zealand) was one of many papers around the world that reported on the tragic removal of at least 30,000 dogs. “Dog lovers who have visited the island allege that the animals are being gradually starved to death. … A number have already died. If this state of things is allowed to continue the process of extermination will be accelerated by the dogs eating one another.” This particular article noted, “The authorities in Constantinople must be either ignorant of the inferno to which they have consigned the animals or callous to the suffering they are causing.”
Considering they repeated their actions in 1915, with the ruthless deportation of humans, I’d vote for callous.
A hundred years after the dogs were expelled, Serge Avedikian directed a 14-minute animated film about them, called Chienne d’histoire (English title: Barking Island). It won the prestigious Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.
Photo of dogs from pexels.com. Map of the Prince Islands by The Emirr, and the photo of Sivriada by j.budissin on Wikipedia.