Roma Evictions

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues International

Istanbul     We bused to the Asian side of Istanbul, or what the locals call the Anatolia side, across the bridge that straddles the Bosporus Straits, high over the ships below. There is literally a sign in the middle of the bridge that says “Asia” one way and Europe, when you come back the other way. But, it’s all part of the giant, sprawling city of Istanbul, which has doubled many times over in the last 50 years.

One of the prices of such expansion, as well as being a consequence of the building boom on the Anatolia side of the Straits because of the earthquake, is the construction boom of high rise (20 stories or so) apartment and condominium buildings for the middle and upper middle class despite the extensive commutes involved. Some years ago the in-migration to Istanbul and Ankara was so extensive that squatter communities were strewn throughout the sprawl and the government was so ill prepared to handle the population explosion that many of the communities became stable with full infrastructure and municipal support — there simply had to be housing and the state could not meet the demand so went with whatever was working.

Now is a different story, of course. We met with a local community organizer, Hacer Foggi, with the Accessible Life Association — Ulasilabilir Yasam Dernegi (UYD), which works with low income communities as organizers and advocates since 2000. We visited a Roma (Gypsy) community in the Kucukbakkalkoy neighborhood. Driving in and looking around one could see nothing but new construction and the booms of cranes as buildings shot up all around the area.

This had been a Roma area though for more than 100 years. A small amount of money was offered for the homes, but in a classic confusion of greed and intimidation some sold and some were lost in the shuffle and many had their homes demolished to prepare for further sale and construction. This small community of Roma was still living as squatters in whatever they had been able to make of their former homes in the several weeks since the demolition. There was no sanitation and only one standpipe to provide any water. It was a disaster zone with people living in the middle of a demolition area.

The Organizers’ Forum delegations ( have now toured similar squatter areas in all of the countries where we have visited. This one was as bad as any and only mitigated by the fact that standing in the middle of it, I knew it would not be there long. This was simply a construction site that had not been cleared. These people would not be here in a year. They would have been paid off or simply carted away by the police. “Progress” was going to come.

Standing off to the side I could take a picture from any direction at construction sites. I was glad an organization was on the scene to help organize a fight on the transition, but the outcome was all over but the shouting here.

Local roma leader with Hacer the UYD organizer.
squatting shacks with high rises springing up all around them as development encroaches completely