Syrian refugees in Istanbul's old Fatih district
WILCO VAN HERPEN ISTANBUL
The people are poor and made the difficult way from wartorn Syria. They left their war-ravaged country to replace it with an area that is soon going to be demolished as well.I went to Fatih, an old historic district. I found myself in a completely different Istanbul. It has become the newfound home for Syrian refugees, people who are just trying to get by with the little bit that they have.
These people are poor and made the difficult way from wartorn Syria. They left their war-affected country to replace it with an area that is soon going to be demolished as well.
In 2010 I went to Syria to make a program for TRT Avaz. Together with my cameraman and assistant, we had a jolly good time there; we were working, but at the same time, it was as if we were on a holiday. People invited us to private parties where food was, of course, being shown off by the people.
We ate for hours, talked with whomever appeared in front of the camera, and not one time did we feel any discomfort or barriers. I visited Damascus, Aleppo and Palmyra, places that are completely destroyed now. Watching the evening news and seeing all the cities being completely destroyed, I feel sorry for the country and its people. It is impossible to understand such useless violence from people who used to live side by side for many years.
Last week, I went to Fatih after I heard from a friend that this area had changed a lot over the last couple of months. People who managed to escape their war-affected country are staying in special refugee camps all along the Turkish-Syrian border, but there are some who have come as far as Istanbul. Maybe you have seen them as well, without realizing they were Syrian; little children begging on the streets or women sitting on the pavement. Sitting on the pavement, they show their passport and ask for money.
My friend Şevket found out a lot of these people are living in the Fatih neighborhood and went there a couple of times to take some pictures. He wanted me to see this neighborhood as well. From the main road next to the Golden Horn we went one kilometer up, and I suddenly found myself in a completely different Istanbul. I parked the car at a place where the dirt collectors sort out the garbage they find on the streets. Plastic bottles on one side, paper on another. One man tried to break down an old refrigerator. From the outside it looked as if this was a historical place that will be restored soon, but once I entered this place I understood that might be nothing more than a dream. The inside was even more impressive with the structure of the old building still visible for the experienced eye. When I looked around, I suddenly remembered this place; I had seen it on İZ TV when a father and son walked around in old Istanbul in search for traces of Evliya Çelebi, an Ottoman traveler who lived 400 years ago. This was one of the places where Evliya Çelebi, as a young man, used to hang around. Now there was nothing left anymore from the grandeur of that time, on the contrary, this was an open-air garbage belt in the center of historic Istanbul. I was surprised, how is it possible to show so little respect to your beautiful and rich history?
A couple of streets further, the city landscape changes drastically. All of a sudden I entered a warzone. This area is probably a place where soon all the houses will be demolished and replaced by “luxury” and expensive apartments. But at the moment, some of the houses had been destroyed, while others were stripped of their doors, windows, while even the front of some houses were sometimes demolished.
But every here and there I saw curtains being put in front of the broken windows. How surprised I was when suddenly one of the curtains moved and a boy came running out looking for his friends. At the moment, behind all those curtains are families living; Syrian families.
A refugee camp
These people are poor and made the difficult way from wartorn Syria. How comfortable can you live though? The people do not have any jobs, some of the houses do not have running water or electricity anymore…
They left their war-affected and demolished country to replace it with an area that soon is going to be demolished as well and, as a feeling to live in, does not differ from many of the places I have seen on the television. One of the oldest and historic areas of Istanbul have slowly turned into a refugee camp.