ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
New hope has surfaced for Sulukule, a historic Roma neighborhood in Istanbul that residents were forced to leave when buildings were demolished this year as part of an urban renewal project.
Some of the neighborhood’s Roma population may be able to return because of a new project approved by the Housing Development Administration, or TOKİ.
Because of the Fatih Municipality's Sulukule urban renovation project, some of the neighborhood’s original residents were relocated 45 kilometers away to flats in Taşoluk. The project, which was criticized both in Turkey and abroad, included building luxury apartments in Ottoman-style mansions.
Criticism grew when it was discovered that some of those apartments had been sold to members of the municipal council. UNESCO warned the municipality three times to reconfigure the project to be compatible with international agreements and criteria; the last warning came in June 2009.
Following these developments, TOKİ head Erdoğan Bayraktar invited a civil innovative called the Sulukule Workshop to Ankara to meet on their alternative project “Locating Onsite.”
The workshop, led by Murat Cemal Yalçıntan and Erbatur Çavuşoğlu, scholars from Mimar Sinan University, created the project with a group of 50-60 people to keep some of the original residents of Sulukule in the neighborhood after the renovation. Representatives of the workshop briefed the branch heads of TOKİ on the details of their project.
Çavuşoğlu said they believe TOKİ’s effort to contact the workshop was an important step and that they would meet again in August after rearranging the “Locating Onsite” project. Çavuşoğlu also said their aim was to come up with a social – not profitable –project for this heritage site.
“Our starting point will be the return of the homeowners and tenants who were living in the neighborhood before the renovation,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that the workshop will make a statement to the public at a gathering that 116 civil and governmental foundations had been invited to.
Yalçıntan said they were planning to build a neighborhood of 300-350 homes while preserving the existing three streets; the project aims to transform Sulukule into a tourist attraction, he said. The “Locating Onsite” project includes accelerating the coaching, shoemaking and tailoring businesses, founding music schools to preserve Roma music and dance, building a restaurant that will also serve as a soup kitchen, establishing various courses for children, and building houses with yards, because yards are social places for Roma.
The potential tenants who would be approached first are the ones who were not relocated to Taşoluk, he said. Yalçıntan said the people in Taşoluk were not the priority. “We will try to include the people who went to Taşoluk, but the Sulukule residents who have not become claimants are the priority,” he said.
Since the municipality and workshop project are colliding in goals, the process to decide which will be operational will begin at the gathering Friday. The attendees will include officials from the municipality and TOKİ.
“We aim to preserve a world heritage; they are planning to build luxury residences,” Yalçıntan said. “It is not likely that the two projects will work together.”