Tan Morgul, Turkish journalist
On internal immigration
In the old model of migration – and this applies to other cultures as well as to the Kurdish population – one individual would come and settle in a neighborhood. If he did well in Istanbul, he would call his other relatives. They would come to settle near him. So, in old Istanbul, there were neighborhoods of people who came from all over the country (but mainly from the east, northeast, southeast, and the middle of Anatolia just after the industrialization of Turkey). Over the years, people started to change their place of residence in Istanbul according to the change of economic position and participation of new generation of migrants.
In the last 15 years, a different form of migration has taken place. There have been forced evictions. In the old model of migration, people had agreed to migrate, so they sold properties and prepared themselves to live in Istanbul. Maybe there was even work waiting for them. But this new form of migration, they cannot sell properties. They – and here I am referring to a predominantly Kurdish population of migrants – are forced to evacuate their land and houses, and have to find a place to settle in Istanbul. As soon as possible, must solve housing and working issues (including children’s education problems), all by themselves and under very limited conditions and capabilities. It is worth noting that the majority of these people are peasants, and for them life in Istanbul often exceeds their capabilities. I have not even mentioned the physiological traumas they have had to face.
Because of war and forced eviction over the last 20 years, the immigrant population in Istanbul and in other big cities has increased. The subsequent conflicts of this mass immigration are particularly visible in Istanbul. This issue of internal immigration is always addressed as a security issue: mainstream media and politics portray these areas as potentially volatile and insecure, in order to manipulate the essential story behind immigration. But truth is hardly like the picture they promote. These people have been forced by circumstance to immigrate. Some, like farmers, have lost the only livelihood they understand. They move to the big cities and try to reorganize here, they try to find jobs. It is very difficult because often they are unqualified. It is hard for them to feed their children, hard to send them to schools. Life in general is very hard for them.
On the new bourgeoise
Another tendency in Istanbul and other big cities is a kind of urban classification. Gated communities are being built in the nice parts of Istanbul. They have big walls, fences, private securities, a lot of landscaping. They are very secure areas. On the other hand, another type of transformation is also taking place in the central part of Istanbul. The municipality is trying to implement urban transformation projects; to do this they are forcing people to evacuate areas. There is, for instance, a circular area called Sulukule in the historical peninsula of downtown Istanbul. This is where Roma settled. It is an area perhaps older than the Byzantium era. It has played an important role in the trade and entertainment life of Istanbul. In this area, the municipality is running a project under the discourse of constructing Ottoman-style villas. Ironically, there is nothing architecturally like that in history. So this is the dance of the AKP-style of transportation within the city for its new bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie has the clothing of Islam. They want to consume something, but they want it to be closer to their understanding of their life, and closer to the central of city. Now, this is only one part of the picture. The other is that the metropolitan municipality or municipal districts are rapidly transforming the city from settlements to the national and international markets (especially to the tourism sector). So, new institutions are trying to produce a lifestyle of consumption for new national and international markets.
Gentrification is under way in Istanbul. At its first phase, it was not like the European or American form of gentrification. In Europe or America, gentrification is affected by municipalities or by the government. But here in Istanbul, gentrification is the work of individuals.
International companies have also focused on Istanbul. They have tried to buy land and realestate, and build buildings for foreigners. The nationalists are always screaming that our land being sold to foreigners. For me, it is not so important who will own this land. After all, if a Turkish company owns this land, the life of the poor will not change. I’m more interested in the process of the transformation.
On the Kurds
The Kurdish issue is the main issue for Turkey – not only in terms of democratization, but also social and economic positions; not just the economic issue, but also the issue of Kurdish migrants living in main cities. There isn’t a visible racist confrontation, but there is potential for one. In small villages, tensions are visible. In Istanbul, where all people think of each other as “other”, it’s easy to create public opinion when something happens. Life in rural areas is very different from that found in the metropolis. Respect and understanding is not as present. The situation is very open to discrimination. There is a potential for confrontation even around minor events – not only in terms of the Kurdish question, but considering the discussion of minorities (particularly those related to the Armenian issue and the rights of minority foundations) within the process of European Union accession negotiations. All these developments provoke the rise of aggressive nationalist discourse, thereby limiting the democratic negotiation processes.
On the progressive movement
The progressive movement is very weak in Turkey. Istanbul is its only stronghold. The military coup of 1980 terminated the tradition of the powerful left in this country. In the last 25 years, the left has tried to reconstitute itself. But even though the left – especially in Istanbul – has tried to affect the decision-making process through individual intellectuals’ contributions, as well as through the minor efforts of trade unions and social movements, it has had a very minor role in the decision-making process. I am not talking here about the so-called Social Democrat party (CHP) as an opposition. This party has played a mainly an anti-social democratic role in Turkish politics.
FPIF, January 4 2008