Poor, minorities push back against booming Turkey's urban renewal
The economic boom in Turkey that is driving urban renewal is also forcing many minorities and the poor from their homes. Now, some are fighting back with lawsuits.
(Page 2 of 2)
In February, the chamber won the right to challenge the amendment in Turkey's highest court, and it is currently fighting 326 cases relating to housing and planning law violations by TOKI.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Not far from Izmir's medieval castle, nearly three-quarters of Imariye's 2,000 homes that were earmarked for demolition are already gone. But the neighborhood is still a hive of activity.
Children as young as 8 work in gangs, smashing concrete to beat out steel reinforcing rods. People strip their homes of windows, doors, electrical wiring – anything they can reuse.
The Izmir Municipality says the neighborhood is being demolished because it's built on unstable ground. Its plan is to turn it into a park and recreational area. But with its central location, panoramic views, and cool summer breezes, many believe developers will inevitably move in.
"I'm sure in a few years' time they will develop this place again and build new homes, but they will be for rich people," says Imariye's mayor, Abdulaziz Turan. "They won't be for the poor people who live here now."
Most of Imariye's residents are from Turkey's disaffected Kurdish minority, who fled to Izmir from the province of Mardin during the 1990s when the Turkish Army burned villages during its conflict with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party.
"You are seeing the current condition of the Kurds," says Bulut. "They did it to us in Mardin, and they are doing it again here."
That pattern is playing out across Turkey, says Amnesty's Mr. Gardner. "Dispersing these communities is an attempt to disrupt their identities and their opportunity for collective action," he says.
'Illegal' may mean 'unsafe,' too
But in an earthquake-prone country filled with many poorly built homes, some say there is an urgent need for urban renewal. Some 70 percent of homes in Istanbul are illegally built, according to Murat Balamir, a specialist in urban planning at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
"Negligence in building activities is particularly significant in unauthorized construction," he says. "Cities in Turkey are extensive 'risk pools' not only for their unreliable structures, but also due to other attributes, including deficiencies in accessibility, infrastructure networks, and open spaces."
But Geoffrey Payne, a London-based urban development consultant who has studied gecekondus for more than 30 years, argues that the neighborhoods grew up in a way that ensured community cohesion and the opportunity to move up in life.
"The brilliant thing about it was that everybody was making money," he says. In the past, small-scale developers moved in to build formal housing, generally offering residents a stake in their projects in the form of apartments – unlike today, when they are pushed out with little recourse.
As in Sulukule and Tarlabasi, residents of Imariye have applied to the ECHR for compensation. But for now, many like Bulut are left to salvage scrap amid a drive for modernity that may leave them once again on the fringes of cities and society.