“emek is ours / istanbul is ours’’: reclaiming emek cinema


author: Cihan Uzunçarşılı Baysal

On the 17th of April, hundreds got together to sound their resistance against the renewal project of Emek Cinema, one of the most important cultural heritage buildings of Istanbul. According to the project of the local (Beyoglu) municipality and Istanbul Big Municipality, the building which contains not only Emek but also a small cinema and a historic pastry shop will be transformed into a Madame Tussaud like museum and a shopping mall.

Built by the well-known architect Alexandre Vallaury in 1884 and utilized for a number of different purposes (Hunters’ Club, Athletics Gym, Circus, Skating Palace) till 1924, the Emek building was then opened as a movie theater. First named ‘Melek’ (angel in Turkish) because of its beautiful art-nouveau angel figures, after it was bought by the state institution, The Pension Fund in 1957, the building was named after it as Emek. With its singular architecture, its spacious hall with sitting capacity of 875 persons and its easy access to and from street, the Cinema has become one of the most important cultural venues of Istanbul ever since. In 2000, Emek was renovated while its sound system was changed to Dolby Digital, enabling it to compete with the most modern cinemas of Istanbul.

As the unchanging venue of Istanbul film festivals and independent festivals, as a building revealing the history of the city, as a space of collective memory, as a cultural utility for all social classes, especially for students, Emek’s significance supersedes all deals of transaction and rent. Unfortunately, the cinema has been closed for more than 2 years, waiting for its demolishment. Situated at the heart of Beyoglu and thus at a very precious plot, the building is planned to be turned into a big shopping mall just like the one across it.

Against the renewal project of the municipality, activists, film stars, artists, media representatives, academicians and citizens have started a resistance to reclaim Emek. On the 17th of April, the resistance started with a rally attended by hundreds. The masses, while on their way to Emek, occupied the newly gentrified neighbouring building which was also turned into a big mall (Demiroren), for an hour, crying out their slogans ‘Emek is Ours/ Istanbul is Ours’ and also ‘Get out of Emek/ Demolish Demirören (the mall occupied). Then the crowd moved into Emek street. Ekümenopolis, the documentary about the urban transformation of Istanbul, was screened there: http://emeksinemasi.blogspot.com/

The second event took place right after 1st of May demonstrations in the evening. Since then, every Sunday starting at 5pm, activities and creative tactics to appropriate Emek street have been continuing.The street hosted the feminist film festival on the 8th, tea-coffe chats on the 15th and 2 important speakers on urban transformation on the 22nd. There will surely be another event next Sunday; the crowd gets larger as onlookers join in.

Emek, as a building very precious for what it stands for, for its historic value and its unique place in the collective memory of the city, has now become a symbol of resistance against the inhumanities, injustices and violations of all urban renewal/ transformation policies in the city. While demanding Emek as ours, we enunciate our demand that ‘Istanbul is ours’, thus demanding the right to the city.

Note: This article was first published at http://www.habitants.org/

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