Turkey: Historic Istanbul Roma Neighborhood Gets a (sort of) Reprieve
The demolishing of Sulukule, a historic Roma neighborhood inside Istanbul's ancient walls, has been one of the most egregious examples of the destructive nature of the numerous "urban transformation" projects that have been enacted in the city in recent years. In general, this "transformation" has meant evicting or relocating lower-income residents from neighborhoods in newly-desirable locations, tearing down their homes, and replacing them with soulless new buildings that appeal to Turkey's fast-growing middle class.
This has certainly been the case in the plan to "transform" Sulukule, which started in 2008, when the local municipality started evicting Roma families from a large part of the hardscrabble neighborhood in order to make way for the construction of 640 "Ottoman-style" homes that none of the area's original tenants could possibly afford to buy or rent. Although the construction project is already well on its way, with most of these homes built, a new court ruling is giving Sulukule residents and their supporters a sense of limited hope. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
A transformation project in Istanbul’s predominantly Roma neighborhood of Sulukule is “not beneficial to the public,” Istanbul’s Fourth Administrative Court ruled yesterday, adding that construction of new villas “must be stopped.”
The ruling comes after a four-year court case launched by the Istanbul Architects Board, Urban Planning Board and the Sulukule Roma Association.
All the new buildings in Sulukule are illegal and must be torn down, Mücella Yapıcı of the Architects Board said in the wake of the ruling. “Justice when it comes late is not justice,” she added.
“We believe that the ruling is very important and sets a precedent, however, part of us mourns because Sulukule was torn down before the court case was even completed and this led to a legal tragedy,” she said.
Istanbul Urban Planning Board President Tayfun Kahraman also said the decision was positive but came too late, adding that it was unlikely that the new buildings would be bulldozed.
“The same schematic project will be passed as if it’s brand new, and they’ll just continue with the construction. Most of the previous decision in similar cases end up like this,” said Kahraman.
While the court's decision may be most significant for the precedent it sets, municipal officials suggested the it won't stop the project. "Why should this project be demolished," Mustafa Demir, the mayor of Istanbul's Fatih district, where Sulukule is located, told the press. "The court misinterpreted the law," he said.
For more the Sulukule story, take a look at this Eurasient audio slideshow from 2008.