It was quite a shock, I have to say: my neighbourhood in the Istanbul suburb of Üsküdar is an area in danger of demolition and ‘forced eviction’. I learned about it when visiting an exhibition on urbanisation in Istanbul which showed a map of all areas that were in some stage of radical change, so to speak. There was a small orange spot in Üsküdar, with the name of my neighbourhood written next to it. That means stage two: no evictions yet, but can begin any time.
When I told my love about it, he said he was not surprised at all: ‘It’s valuable ground and of course it can’t be left to the gypsies living there’. That’s his interpretation of the city policy, by the way, (totally) not his opinion.
I’m afraid he hit the nail on the head. Üsküdar will be a more desirable location in the future, since the metro tunnel under the Bosporus is being built, connecting the suburb directly to the European side of town. It will attract richer people, and that means the poorer people will have to go. Especially the poor ones that nobody really cares about and who have no say in politics anyway. Right: the Roma.
Speculating? No, look at the history of Sulukule, once the living, thriving heart of the gypsy community in Istanbul. The neighbourhood has been torn down, real estate investors took over, the Roma were spread over the city and nearby cities. Some left the houses that they got from the government, because they couldn’t afford them. Now I’m not equating my neighbourhood with Sulukule: Selami Ali doesn’t have the rich history and cultural meaning for gypsies (even around Europe) that Sulukule has. And everybody agreed that something needed to be done in Sulukule: many houses were extremely dilapidated, nothing else could be done other than pulling them down. The bad thing was that not only the houses were destroyed, but also the community. In Selami Ali (which begins right around the corner of my street, so my street is not in danger, insjallah) the houses are not falling down. There is poverty, there is violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, and in that sense my neighbourhood is worse off then Sulukule. But I’m afraid it will end up just like Sulukule: fancy houses, rich people, and the gypsies swept away. Their problems not solved, but their community crushed and their problems only relocated.
So much for the beautiful promises Prime Minister Erdogan recently made to Turkey’s gypsies. I mean, you don’t really think that everything has changed since Sulukule, and that history won’t repeat itself?