AS A LONG TERM ISLAMIC COUNTRY, TURKEY HAS A LONG WAY AHEAD FOR A VEGETARIAN/VEGAN COMMUNITY
Let me give you some historical remark in order to be able to understand the situation more clearly. Turkish people met with the Islamic religion about 1300 years ago. Since then, Islam has been ruling about %95 of the Turkish communities. As an integral part of that large community, Turkey were evolved to a secure country which is not ruled by Islamic rules anymore. In that context, Turkish society has very deep links with the religion- a religion which orders to sacrifise animals. Apart from the religious practises, religion has rooted to the very deep of the traditions. Therefore, eating animals is considering like eating "good thing"...
Although the prophet Muhammed is said to be lacto-vegetarian*, which seems to me false, most people around here sacrifise animals once in a year -fest of sacrificing animals. This is a must for Muslim people who can afford it. The operation -cutting off the animal's head- is performed mostly in the streets. Little kids watch this tragedy. Even some play with the cut off sheep's dead head. Being grown up in these social structure, one does not necessarily consider to stop eating animal products. However, some times it is not the case. Most vegetarians in my environment, have very tragic and bad memeories about these fests. That made them to turn into vegetarianism. In that context, I assume there are no more than 2000 vegetarians in Turkey - a country having 70 million inhabitants. In my opinion, number of vegans does not exceed 200-300.
Vegetarians have some web sites in Turkish. Some are personal, some not. The most visited one is www.vejetaryen.net We also have a email list in which we discuss many things, from animal liberation to animal ingredients etc.. Also there is an egological life magazine called Bugday (which means 'wheat'). Bugday also formed an ecological life society. Moreover, there are some anarcho-vegan groups and individuals who are not so active. Also, there were attempts to form ALF (Animal Liberation Front) Turkey. But as far as I know, all trials failed. Some activists liberated a few sheeps who will be sold for the fest of sacrifice.
When it comes to animal liberation, I consider the traditional practises of the community the biggest enemy. Killing tens of thousands of animals in a week, as calling it a fest, is really disgusting. Since social structure is somehow harsh, it needs more afford and energy to alter it.
People I know, have many reasons to turn into veganism or vegetarianism. Some call themselves as pacifist and due to political beliefs they refuse not to exploit animals; some 'love' animals so that they do not eat them, but feed kittens or dogs at home -making them deppressed in little rooms. Some people wants to lose weight and keep away from animal protein. Some find meat disgusting.
My personal story is not so much different.. I used to eat tons of meats with my friends. We used to like it a lot. Since they were millions of restaurants serving 'kebab'; it is a piece of cake to find something 'meaty'... Then, as far as I identified myself as anarcho-pacifist; I realized that it was some kind of exploiting animals. I did not have health concerns, since it used to seem there were millions of meat consumers who have good health. Then, I began to make research. I surprisingly found many relations between meat eating and 'psychology and anthropology'. Also, in my opinion meat eating was one of the prior reasons how the idea of exploiting people and nature flourished. Since I am all aganist to destroy nature and people, I thought therefore I am against to practise it. One morning, I woke up and decided to refuse eating meat. Simple as that..
The biggest reaction came from my parents. They did not understand the aspect of my refusal. It took me long time to tell the story and also I emphasized I am very determined in this decision of mine. Then, in a few weeks my (ex-) girl friend also turned to vegetarianism which was great. But almost none of our friends were veggie, so it took too many time to explain them. Sometimes I really felt tired, bored; but it was all OK. In a short term, some of my friends turned into vegetarian as well. It was a good news to me. I felt I am in the right direction.
Turkish cousine basicly depends on meat. But, since the country is very fertile; we have many many veggie foods. They are amazingly delicious. Everyone knows bulgur, kuskus which we have here in Turkey. In countryside there are amazing wild-plants, wihch also we eat. For instance, nettle is grown many places of the western regions of Turkey. We make tea of them, and make the dishes from them. There are plenty of plants like that. But when it comes to dine out, it is a bit hard. International and expensive restaurants usually have vegan/vegetarian menus; but most 'kebab' restaurants do never have. But, to tell the truth, it is more cheaper and easier to find something vegan in Turkey, then in many European countries.
Among the people I met in daily life, most people find vegetarianism weird at first glance. But, after a few minutes they remember their own health problems due to meat consuming and they confirm my attitude. So, when it comes to health issues, it is a bit more easier to influence people. However, I consider killing animals issue much more important. My major concern is "how do people think that they have the right to kill and eat a living soul". It is very likely in the case of militarist structures. How soldiers feel the right to "kill the enemy". The motivation given is significant. You may observe the same kind of motivation in the society. Mother tells the kid to eat more meat to be able to grow up, the coach advise the sportsmen to eat more animal products etc.. This paradigm needs to be altered immediately. Our first target should be this. As soon as people begin to think that 'they kill animals so they kill themselves'; the struggle for veggie life will be more easier.
To sum up, I am much optimistic about the future of vegetarianism/veganizm in Turkey. however, the actual is a bit harsh and diffucult to cope with, it is much more better than it was 10 or something years ago. As the radical effect of the religion and concervativst traditions began to fade, I expect a sunny and free-from-animal products future for all of us..
*: According to the PeTA's mirror web page Islamic Concern: www.islamicconcern.org