sulukule: strategies of resistance and solidarity practices


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The site

In Istanbul, a very aggressive urban regeneration process began with a new law (5366) passed in July 2005. Under this law, municipalities and TOKI (The Mass Housing Administration of Turkey) are authorized to carry out urban renewal projects in historic areas. Sulukule, a neighbourhood inhabited by the Romani people for centuries, was chosen as the first renewal site in Istanbul. The project is being implemented under the protocol of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the District (Fatih) Municipality and TOKİ. Step by step, the Romani people living there have been forcefully evicted or manipulated to leave their livelihoods, and their departure is followed by ruthless demolitions throughout the area.

The resistance

Yet, the very same period also witnessed one of the most resilient public campaigns in the history of Turkey’s urban social movements, which created an extensive public awareness of the crisis in Sulukule. Various national and international NGOs, social movements, universities and other organizations have declared their support for the people of Sulukule. A group of local activists formed the Sulukule Platform and coordinated strategies of resistance and solidarity practices, such as campaigning, mobilizing the community and organizing public events. The movement didn’t stop at “naming and shaming”, but took the initiative in drafting an alternative plan on August 2008[1], under the name of Autonomous Planners Without Borders (STOP). Eventually, the extent of bad publicity for TOKİ, nationally and internationally, compelled its president to communicate with the leaders of the movement. In the summer of 2009, the Sulukule Platform, STOP and other volunteers came together under the name Sulukule Studio and prepared a revised, alternative proposal for Sulukule.

The eviction

Unfortunately, all those resistance and alternative seeking practices could not stop the authorities to fully demolish Sulukule and evict its inhabitants.  The process of relocating the inhabitants of Sulukule has been facilitated by a number of legal regulations, and brought about the worsening of daily life and living conditions, demolitions and forced evictions. The declaration of the neighborhood as a Renewal Area and the Urgent Expropriation decision encouraged the property owners to sell their property and leave the area. This was furthered by various enterprises of the municipality like establishing a puppet-association supporting the cause of the municipality. They employed strategies of psychological warfare, in order to make the tenants leave, such as marking the houses to be demolished with big “X”s and leaving the debris of demolished houses on the site, which increased crime and insecurity in the area. The only ones who stayed little bit more were those determined to resist to the very end or had no other place to go. After almost two years from demolitions, the new project targeting higher income groups is about to be completed. The process map above documents and shows different strategies of resistance and solidarity practices for Sulukule through out this period.

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