Gentrification posited as motive for attack on Tophane art galleries
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/23/2010 12:00:00 AM | ÖZGÜR ÖĞRET
Though the motive behind Tuesday night's attack on Istanbul galleries remains unclear, a new theory has suggested that anger about gentrification fueled the incident.
Though the motive behind Tuesday night’s attack on Istanbul art galleries remains unclear, a new theory that anger about gentrification fueled the incident has joined initial concerns about a clash between conservative and liberal factions.
“People are worried that the price of the real estate will go up and they will lose their homes. The other, deeper reason is the rising conservatism,” Azra Tüzünoğlu, owner of the Outlet Gallery, told daily Milliyet on Wednesday.
Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay visited the Tophane neighborhood around noon on Thursday and called for both sides – however they are defined – to be tolerant toward each other, adding that violence cannot be excused for any reason.
Expressing his hopes that the “social transformation” of the area can be carried out without disturbing anyone, the minister said: “Change always hurts. But let this be known, nobody can force their Anatolian lifestyle [upon others] in Istanbul, but nobody has the right to turn a blind eye to the [traditions] of the people here, either.”
Answering a question about the release of the seven suspects who had been detained for assault, Günay said the police are continuing their efforts to identify the attackers.
On Tuesday night, a group of dozens of people, largely young men, attacked an opening event at several art galleries in the Tophane neighborhood, part of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. The attackers put at least five people in the hospital with injuries from pepper spray, broken bottles, batons and knives. Seven people were detained, one Tuesday night and six during the day Wednesday, in connection with the incident, but all were released Wednesday night because they could not be identified.
Police came to the galleries Thursday to ask for security camera recordings, but the cameras were not operative in at least one gallery.
Local residents who spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Thursday all said the incident started with a verbal confrontation between some gallery visitors who were smoking in the street, drinks in hand, and a woman wearing a chador. Some of the visitors allegedly insulted the woman and the local youth reacted, residents said. When asked how a group numbering in the dozens could gather, armed with batons and pepper spray, within a matter of minutes, Fatih Aras, the owner of the teahouse across from the Outlet Gallery denied the group had such weapons and said the incident was not organized.
Seyit Han Karabaş, who was born and raised in Tophane, said the neighborhood has a mosque and a church next door to each other but no incidents had ever happened before.
Though initial reports speculated that the attack had come in response to controversial art pieces on display at Galeri Non or due to alcohol consumption in the streets, the issue of locals’ concern about being pushed out of their neighborhood due to the increasing number of art galleries, hostels and restaurants there soon came to the fore.
“The incident [in Tophane] gives the local administration a chance to ask themselves what is going wrong,” Erhan Demirdizen, a city-planning expert and former chairman of Istanbul’s Chamber for City Planners, told the Daily News in a phone interview Thursday. He said it was obvious that tensions existed between the gallery owners and local residents due to the transformation the area has been undergoing in recent years.
“[The opening of art galleries in the area] has caused a considerable increase in rents and other prices in the surrounding residential areas as well,” Demirdizen said, explaining that this has made Tophane residents feel anxious about their future ability to stay in the neighborhood.”
“The [Beyoğlu] municipality has to develop social projects in areas undergoing urban transformation,” the planning expert said, calling for the integration of activities such as art galleries that benefit the whole city with the people living in neighboring areas, and efforts to prepare people for the subsequent changes. “The municipality can recruit social psychologists to draft and implement such projects,” Demirdizen said.
When Tophane residents were asked if they were concerned about being pushed out of their neighborhood due to urban renewal, and whether that could have been a motivation behind the attack, they all denied the theory with similar comments, just as they dismissed claims that the attack was pre-planned. The website www.tophanehaber.com has, however, been posting stories for weeks on how the hostels, alcohol-serving restaurants and art galleries in Tophane are corrupting the morals of the neighborhood.
Asked about this website, teahouse owner Aras said, “Even 5-year-old children can write anything [they want] on the Internet.”