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Turkey: Istanbul’s Roma: we are not on sale

Istanbul’s urban renewal projects are threatening to bulldoze Sulukule, the inner city quarters that have traditionally been home to Istanbul’s Romani people

di Asli Kayabal

Istanbul?s urban renewal projects are threatening to bulldoze Sulukule, the inner city quarters that have traditionally been home to Istanbul?s Romani people. The project, that will demolish the settlement?s older houses where the Roma have lived for more than 1000 years to replace them with new residential buildings will displace residents to other areas of the city.

Istanbul?s Mayor, Kadir Toqbas, stubbornly defends the regeneration project despite the resistance of Sulukule?s Roma residents. Through Sulukule?s Roma Cultural Association and Sulkule?s Platform local residents are attempting to defend their cultural and built heritage by drawing attention to the issue and encouraging a more participatory and creative approach to urban renewal.

History, culture and tradition play a large part in the attachment of Sulkule?s Roma residents to their neighbourhood, but economic reasons also come into play making a forced migration to other areas in Istanbul unfeasible. Roma residents in fact feel that they have been betrayed by the local government, as the housing prices are much lower in Sulukule that what they should be considering the historical value of the neighbourhood, which is among the most characteristic of Istanbul?s European areas. Further, most of Sulukule?s inhabitants live under the poverty line. One out of every four families has an average monthly salary of no more than 300 Turkish lire (about 170 euros) making housing in the rest of Istanbul inaccessible to them.

?Our lives are not on sale? say the Sulukule?s Roma Cultural Association, that is campaigning to stop the bulldozers and speculation. But the Roma remain a marginalised and minority group whose voice is seldom heard in politics.

In May 2008 Istanbul?s French Cultural Centre will host a film festival to inform the public of the great loss that destroying this historic quarter would be.

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