Oldest Romani Settlement in Europe under Threat in Turkey
20 November 2007
Istanbul's Sulukule District, one of the oldest Romani settlements in Europe, was again the scene of demolitions in September 2007 by the Fatih Municipality within the implementation of an urban renovation plan, according to research conducted by the ERRC. Sulukule, a district inhabited by around 5,000 people who are predominantly Romani, is famous for its musical entertainment culture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
Most recently in the series of demolitions was the tearing down of a four-storey building that housed three Romani families, forcing them to seek refuge with relatives. In 2006, the Cabinet issued a decree which authorised the Fatih Municipality to proceed with the "immediate expropriation" of certain parts in Sulukule. On 22 February 2007, the Fatih Municipality destroyed a Romani house by 'mistake' while the owners were away from the neighbourhood. Since then, a total of 12 houses have been demolished.
The urban renovation plan of the Fatih Municipality, which has not yet been approved by the Renovation Council, foresees the replacement of the old houses of Sulukule with new ones. The tenants and house owners in Sulukule could engage in a leasing agreement with the Municipality to buy or rent housing in the renovated neighbourhood or relocate to Taoluk, a far away district with cheaper accommodation built by the Prime Minister's Housing Development Administration (TOK). The terms of the leasing agreements, however, are unaffordable for most Roma in Sulukule. Moreover, as the district's culture is built on musical entertainment, the majority of the Sulukule residents would lose their income if they were forced to move far away from the city centre.
Sulukule dwellers have been trying to bring their case to the Council of the State to reverse the decision of immediate expropriation, but they have not been successful so far. Following the most recent demolitions in mid-September, a civic platform called the Sulukule Platform, formed with the participation of the Sulukule Romani Culture Protection and Cooperation Association and the Human Settlements Association, launched an awareness raising campaign called "We Must Save Sulukule". Sulukule is just one of the targets of urban renovation plans that are being implemented around Europe which resort in relocating poor inhabitants of districts with high real estate value. In many cases, Roma are amongst the foremost victims of such urban renovation plans that negate the housing rights of the original occupants of project sites.