The Case of Sulukule-Istanbul
Romani people had begun their journey back in 4th century AD, from the northern parts of India and they spread throughout the globe. Sulukule was one of the neighborhoods where they settled, which is a central historical districts of Istanbul. It is frequently mentioned that these people lived there in that particular neighborhood round about ten centuries. The most important characteristic of Romani people is their colorful lifestyle, including their tremendous talent on music. Nightlife and entertainment sector was one of their livelihood, though they were not highly employed. The residents, as minority, have had visible aspects of their unique culture. And a process of alienation has begun. The shallow understanding allowed others to see Romanis as uneducated, unemployed people.
Urban renewal process in Sulukule has begun as the new national law became valid, which was mainly about the conservation of buildings with historical and cultural value through renovation. At that time, around 5,000 people were living in Sulukule, 3,500 of them were Romanis.
The renewal process can be summarized in three main consequent steps:
1 – dispossession: Local government has paid for the properties, then they wanted residents either to pay the rest for luxurious buildings which were going to be constructed instead, or to simply to move out. Tenants and owners had no rights on their own houses.
2 – eviction: Buildings to be demolished were marked. New mass houses were constructed by central government in the outskirts of the city. Some of the residents moved to these new houses, but it was impossible for them to go to work, because of transportation expenses.
3 – demolition: Already weak infrastructure was damaged, epidemics were threatening. Even the archeological ruins found underground could not stop the ambitious implementation.
At one point, locals and volunteers (academicians, urban planners, etc.) came together and formed Sulukule Platform, in order to defend Romani’s rights. This productive social movement was a challenge to the municipality. They even have prepared an alternative plan for the area, however that was not taken into consideration by authorities. In the end, the whole neighborhood was demolished and luxurious single family houses were constructed instead.
The language used by local government in the beginning, such as the words “humanitarian” or “incorporating renewal”, unfortunately resulted in a massive gentrification. The old residents of the neighborhood lost their feeling of belonging, their network, their culture which was a part of the settlement for hundreds of years. Also, it was a question of ethics. For sure the residents wanted to defend their rights. Formation of Sulukule Platform can be seen as a natural reaction. But property rights were ambiguous and there was not enough support, so it could not function as an inhibitor. Instead, participatory decision making should have been a part of early steps of planning.
Uysal, Ülke Evrim. An urban social movement challenging urban regeneration: The case of Sulukule, Istanbul. Cities, February 2012 Vol. 29 (1) 12-22
Karaman, O., Islam, T. On the dual nature of intra-urban borders: The case of a Romani neighborhood in Istanbul. Cities, August 2012 Vol. 29 (4) 234-243