Delayed justice for Sulukule
The saddest story of urban transformation in Istanbul is Sulukule. This neighborhood is known as the one of the oldest Roma settlements in the world. Romani coming from India during the Byzantium era are believed to have settled right next to the city walls of Istanbul.
In its 1000-year history, Sulukule has overcome numerous crises; however, in 2006, the place was declared a “renewal zone” by a decree of the cabinet. In 2009, the local Romani formed the “Sulukule Platform” to have their voices heard but against all the objections of lawyers and scientists, demolitions started.
Without waiting for the outcome of the lawsuits opened by the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, bulldozers entered Sulukule. Fatih district Mayor Mustafa Demir laid foundations in 2010 at Sulukule, which has Byzantium ruins, Ottoman arches and several archaeological riches, without waiting for the report from the Istanbul Archeological Museum. Thus, TOKİ (Housing Development Administration) planted its not-so-pleasant flag at Sulukule.
Several institutions such as Europa Nostra, İcomos-Türkiye, the Istanbul Chamber of Architects and the Association of Archeologists were not allowed into the site by workers of Fatih Municipality.
In a place which could become one of the world’s most popular archaeological parks, it is not easy to comprehend why TOKİ chose to build 620 houses and 45 offices.
Just as the historic and cultural heritage of Sulukule was neglected, the Romani living there were also neglected. The Romani who have lived there for more 1000 years, were exiled to TOKİ-built houses in Kayabaşı, some 60 kilometers from Sulukule, with the promise of better accommodation. However, it was impossible for the Romani to find the same neighborhood atmosphere there and continue their traditional professions as florists, basket weavers and musicians.
As a matter of fact, most of them went back to their old neighborhood, to their houses that did not exist anymore.
Look what has happened after toppling so many lives and neglecting historic heritage. A few days ago, the Council of State approved the cancelation decision of the Sulukule project.
How good is the justice that has arrived nine years later?
On the other hand, Fatih mayor Mustafa Demir, who caused incredible damage at Sulukule, looks like he has not drawn any lessons from this process. If he had, would he have made the decision so easily to transform 1734 historic caravanserais into hotels within the historic peninsula of Istanbul?
We do not know yet how these valuable historic caravanserais will be transformed with the cooperation of which universities and which architectural offices.
Meanwhile, good news for the Romani: From now on, the rights of the Romani in Turkey, who number about 5 million, will not be violated as easily as they were in Sulukule.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has placed Özcan Purçu on the İzmir list at a good place for the upcoming elections He will be the voice of the Romani in parliament. Purçu is also the representative of Turkey’s Romani in the Council of Europe; he will be the third Romani deputy in Europe if he is elected.