Minorities in Turkey sent to exile in the periphery
Övgü Pınar - 24/02/2014
Three boys, Veysi Özdemir, Burak Kaçar, and Asil Koç singing hip-hop to express their resent against social injustice achieved national fame after their song was displayed in the Istanbul Biennial of 2013. Calling themselves “Tahribad-ı İsyan” (the destruction of rebellion) they started a rebellion against what they witnessed in their neighborhood Sulukule.
Sulukule is one of the historic neighborhoods of Istanbul, populated mostly by Roma people. Situated near the Golden Horn, it was also one of the hotspots of the entertainment sector until it was chosen as one of the quartiers to go through gentrification. In 2005, the Turkish government began buying homes from residents and relocating them to social housing in a peripheral area called Taşoluk, 35 km from their neighborhood. The existing owners were offered to have the new houses that are going to be constructed in the area by paying the difference between the cost of construction and the value of their houses. But this option seems unapproachable for most of them as the prices have already skyrocketed in the area.
The government paid 500 Turkish liras (around 170 euros) per square meter for the houses and agreed to long-term monthly installments of around 150 euros for 15 years.
Soon it came out that the municipality and contractors were making so much money from the sales of the apartments that the sum paid to the Sulukule residents sounded tragically funny.
The residents that moved away found themselves in a complex situation, they had to go to the city center to find a job and this meant they had to pay for public transportation, which they didn’t use before. Some were complaining to walk for almost half an hour to reach the closest grocery shop in the area, while before they had all the amenities at their reach in their neighborhood. They also miss the social networks they had in their neighborhoods.
One says, “They have moved us there as we are in need but they are showing us the lives of rich people, we cannot afford that…. They are showing us a rich life, it is a luxurious life, the utilities payment, the heating payment… How can you pay them with no income?”
And back “home” Sulukule started suffering too. The gentrification project has cleared all the characteristic fabric of the area, to replace it by new residential buildings, commercial units, a hotel etc.
Sulukule became a symbol of the urban transformation plans of the Justice and Development Party government and attracted activists. It came under the spotlight once again during the Gezi Park protests and soon after at the 2013 Istanbul Biennial. The anger was translated into a work of art named “Wonderland” (by artist Halia Altındere) in which starred the boys of “Tahribad-ı İsyan”.
Asil Slang is Roma, VZ is Kurdish, and Zen-G doesn’t want to disclose his background. Growing up in the isolated poorer neighborhoods of Istanbul they found therapy and a way of expressing their anguish in music.
They say, “Some make music just to make people have fun. We are making it to defend our neighborhood, to trigger a movement among people… When life starts here (at Sulukule) there won’t be any space for “dirty” people. They find us dirty.” And Asil adds, “Even if they don’t send us to exile we will be like sent to exile.”
Killing them while kissing them
The same goes for the residents of Tarlabaşı, another historical, low-income, minority neighbourhood. Tarlabaşı is also going under gentrification with its residents forced to move to the suburbs. Just a few minutes’ walk from the famous Taksim Square, Tarlabaşı has always been home to minorities, including Armenians, Greek, Jewish. After these groups were driven out by the harsh taxes on non-Muslims in the 1940s and riots in 1955, the area was left deserted, only to be taken over by Kurdish migrants who came from eastern Turkey to escape the armed conflicts or to find jobs.
The Beyoglu mayor, Ahmet Misbah Demircan, says that he wants to turn Tarlabaşı into Champs-Élysées in Paris. But what worries the opponents is that the historic area is losing its texture, its diverse culture.
Architect Huseyin Kaptan, director of the Istanbul Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Center, said in an interview “Unfortunately, this is very aggressive and very wrong. To keep the social structure safe, you need to involve the people. Contractors get to build some modern thing — could be a shopping mall, could be a high-rise — but they have no regard for the people living there.” He added, “I call this kind of operation they’re doing, ‘killing them while kissing them.”