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Istanbul land to sell for five times amount Roma given

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/22/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Activists for Istanbul’s Roma community are up in arms after a website recently announced plans for a land auction in Fatih’s Sulukule neighborhood. The price of the plots could top five times more than the amount given to the Roma for the property 18 months ago. The Roma could have stayed if authorities had originally offered market price for their land, an NGO head says

Plots of land in Istanbul’s Sulukule neighborhood that formerly belonged to Roma residents have been put up for sale at a price five times their original expropriation offer, daily Hürriyet reported Wednesday.

“The value of the houses was not what Fatih Municipality originally offered to the Roma people. The city forced them to sell their houses too cheaply,” said Hacer Foggo, a member of the Sulukule Platform.

Eighteen months ago, the municipality offered the Roma between 500 and 800 Turkish liras per square meter for their land. On Friday, a 264-square-meter field, located in the Hatice Sultan area of Sulukule, was put up for sale on a real estate website for 667,000 liras, or 2,552 liras per square-meter.

Istanbul’s Financial Office will hold an auction Oct. 15 for the land.

“If today’s prices were offered for the original houses, people would not have had to move from the neighborhood they had been living in for generations,” Foggo said, adding that because the Roma people were offered so little for their land they could not pay the extra amount demanded by the new landowners.

“Now, since the price is over 2,500 liras per square meter, the prices will climb up into the millions,” she said, adding that the property seizure was really just an acquisition of unearned income.

Foggo said land speculators were also to blame. “New residents will include sheiks, sons of parliamentary deputies, businessmen and municipal council members. Already, TOKİ [Turkey’s Housing Development Administration] has started building deluxe houses.”

Some of the Roma people were relocated into houses in Istanbul’s Kayabaşı neighborhood far from the city center. Citizens who could not afford to pay their rent, electricity and water bills had to sell their houses in an auction and move in with relatives elsewhere in the city.

[HH] Cases continue

Roma people who were unhappy with the expropriation amount given by the municipality have opened legal cases, though for many their homes in Sulukule have already been demolished.

In the cases at Fatih’s Civil Law Courts, legal experts determined the appropriate expropriation amount to be 1,200 liras per square meter and the municipality was supposed to offer this amount.

But both sides opposed the decision because the amount was deemed too little by the Roma and too much by the municipality.

Reports have said that the auction could serve as evidence for a number of Roma people from Sulukule in their case at the European Court of Human Rights, which accepted their applications in August.

The Sulukule Roma association applied to the European court, accusing the ongoing urban transformation project in Sulukule of violating six articles, namely “protection of privacy and family life,” “prevention of discrimination,” “protection of property,” “the right to a fair trial,” “respect for human rights” and “the right to due process.”

Hilal Küey, a lawyer for the association, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that they applied to the European court on May 20 with a 22-page file and 48 pages of documents.

“The European court usually does not accept applications if the domestic court cases are still ongoing, but they have accepted our application,” said Küey, adding that there were at least three ongoing court cases in Turkey regarding the renewal project in Sulukule.

The Fatih Municipality press department told the Daily News on Wednesday that a detailed official explanation would be released on Thursday.

A municipality official said what happened in Sulukule was a settlement, not expropriation, adding that landowners were offered a discount for purchasing new homes to be built on the site that were worth as much as their land.

When asked about criticism that the Roma people were not wealthy enough to purchase the new houses, the official said that matter was another argument and required a separate discussion.

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