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Sulukule quarter of Istanbul
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 09 Jun 2008 Mon 03:32 pm

Istanbul gentrifies a 1,000-year-old Roma neighborhood
'Ottoman villas' are going up, and the world's largest Roma settlement is moving out – to suburban apartments.

Tucked right up against Istanbul's 5th-century Byzantine walls, the Sulukule neighborhood feels more like a rural village than an urban enclave. Its narrow, winding streets are full of squat, colorful houses with uneven walls. Residents sit in front of their homes sipping tea and chatting with neighbors. Occasionally a rooster struts by.

These days, the neighborhood also seems like a battle zone. Around every corner, piles of rubble are all that remain of recently demolished homes. Several of the neighborhood's few apartment buildings are half razed, their facades marked with gaping holes, and remaining residents – Roma, or gypsies, whose ancestors have lived here for centuries – feel besieged as they face relocation to new apartment blocks on the outskirts of Istanbul, 25 miles away.

The Sulukule quarter, in the city's historic district, is undergoing what the local municipality calls "urban transformation," a plan that calls for flattening the entire neighborhood that houses 5,000 people. It would be replaced with 620 "Ottoman style" villas – modern parlance for upscale residences. The project – financed by the municipality and the Turkish government's housing development agency – is to be completed in time for 2010, when the rapidly growing and prospering Istanbul becomes the European Capital of Culture for a year.

The municipality's plan, though, is encountering strong criticism inside and outside Turkey, with members of both the US Congress and the European Parliament expressing opposition to it.

For centuries – some researchers believe even a millennium – Sulukule has been a predominantly Roma enclave, famous for its musicians and dancers. It even played a bit part in the 1963 James Bond film "From Russia with Love," in which the debonair spy watches an alfresco belly-dancing performance by the city walls.

Sulukule's entertainment houses – unlicensed boîtes where carousing went on into the early morning – made the area one of Istanbul's best-known (some would say notorious) nightspots, until the police shut them down in the early 1990s. Deprived of its main source of income, the neighborhood has been in steady decline since. Today, it is one of Istanbul's poorest areas.

In its glory days, Sulukule felt like Rio during carnival – every night, recalls Sukru Punduk, a local percussionist and bandleader turned community activist.

Reminiscing and plotting a civic defense of Sulukule in the back room of a neighborhood teahouse, which serves double duty as his office, Mr. Punduk says that when the entertainment houses were still open, his family owned two, employing close to 80 people.

"We were earning a living and having fun," says Punduk, who chairs the enclave's first community organization, the Sulukule Romani Culture and Development Association. "The houses then were in better condition and people were earning more. Musicians from other parts of Turkey would even come here to earn money.

"Families have been here for three, four, five centuries. Think of this neighborhood as a large, large family. We are a culture here. It's a community that shouldn't be uprooted. We don't have another place to return to," he adds.


2.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 14 Jun 2008 Sat 01:30 am

last year's article, Turkish Daily News:

Roma neighborhood of Sulukule awaits demolition

For many Turks, a film made more than three decades ago is an icon of local Roma culture. In the movie, Arkadaş (Friend) made in 1974, two friends meet after many years and head to a familiar entertainment place: one of the Roma houses of “Sulukule” where the scene quickly turns to traditional music, swirling dance and laughter.

But if the film still captures the image of Istanbul's Sulukule in the popular imagination, there is little laughter in the district today. For soon, this millennium-old center of Roma culture will meet the wrecking ball.

“It's a done deal,” said Şadi Çatı, who continues to live in Sulukule after more than a decade after the neighborhood's decline started. “Some may not like the way we live, but these are our houses.”

Not only for Turks, but for tourists too, Sulukule was an attraction that ranked in popularity with Sultanahmet's Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.

But in 1992, the Istanbul Municipality shut down the houses, which at nights had been turning into lively bistros. The decision pushed the area into an economic decline. Today the residents of the area say that they are struggling to find a way to survive.

But even intervention by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO), which listed the city walls that surround the neighborhood as a site of international heritage did not stop the process.

The area was first populated by the Roma during the Byzantine times and became the first sedentary settlement of the Roma anywhere in the world in the 15th century under Mehmet the Conqueror, the sultan who captured Constantinople from Byzatine rule in 1453.

Neither did the weight of such history, a similar declaration by Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, stop the process. The ministry formally decreed that Sulukule should be protected.

Problems: not only one

The neighborhood and its culture that survived through the Byzantine and Ottoman empires are not nearing extinction in the face of modern urban transformation.

The Greater Istanbul Municipality has lined up the area for demolition as part of a broad urban transformation effort along the shores of the Golden Horn waterway that intersects the European half of Istanbul.

“We accept that our buildings are very old and not the best places to live,” said Çati. “Some might not approve of them, but they are not wrecks. These are our homes. Officials have not involved us in the process. That is not fair. We have lived here for centuries. We do not want apartments.”

Once full of laughter and sounds of music, the narrow streets today are silent with fear and grief. Colorful two-three story buildings are now waiting for bulldozers to come. Even children are aware of the tension in the air and play in silence.

In today's Sulukule there are 503 house owners, 371 tenants and more than a hundred unregistered residencies. When the bulldozers have demolished the area 3,500 people will have to find somewhere else to live.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in cooperation with Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) and Fatih Municipality pushed the button for the urban transformation project.

The project, which could bring the bulldozers to Sulukule soon, envisions restoring many neighborhoods of Istanbul that were constructed devoid of plans, security conditions, green fields, and social and sanity facilities.

Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş explained that the restructuring of Istanbul brings in many potential problems such as earthquake risks and security. People, who live in that kind of structured areas, are not happy, he said in the ceremony celebrating the launch of the urban transformation project in the neighborhood. The municipality started the urban transformation projects in order to solve the problems, Topbaş argued.

But the Sulukule part of the project has been a subject of disagreements between the project leaders and local non-governmental organizations who have sought to defend the rights of Sulukule's Roma.

Instead of destroying the neighborhood, the Faith Municipality claims that the project will protect and honor two thousand years of history reflected in the city walls and nearby grand buildings. The residents, they say, will receive compensation that will allow them to move to modern and safe apartments. The project is an opportunity for them, officials say.

“Under the project the unhealthy residence areas will be transformed as healthy places,” said Topbaş.


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