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Neighbourhood Tarlabasi in Istanbul by Ayse Taspinar (Turkey)

Talking Cityzen is a blog written by citizens of European cities. It is a platform for citizens to give their personal views and to share their knowledge on urban topics. In this way policy makers and researchers can gain insights into what really matters to the inhabitants of a city. Our first ´Talking Cityzen´ is Ayse Taspinar, second year student Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Sabanci University in Turkey. She gives her personal view on the development of Istanbul.

Ayse Taspinar: Istanbul has long been the center of civilizations. After establishment of republican Turkey, with the focus on creation of a new nation, the Ottoman past was targeted to be abolished from the collective memory. Since Istanbul, as the capital of Ottoman Empire, is associated too much with the Ottoman past, the new state did not invest in Istanbul. However, it has always received a special interest from a lot of different people. Istanbul is now a kind of open museum for researchers or adventurous people, and an enormous potential market for business. However, since it has become a more and more crowded city and globalization has increased, there is a strong need to do something to create social inclusion and integration.

Beyoğlu: a place where the police cannot enter

The district of Beyoğlu reflects the whole transformation process of the late Ottoman period and republican Turkey. Beyoğlu, which was once called Pera, is established by a non-muslim population consisting of Levantines from the bourgeoisie class and foreign state officers. In the late Ottoman period, it became the symbol of “modern´way of living with its cosmopolite inhabitants. After establishment of the republic and due to a world conjunction, many of the non-muslims migrated from Istanbul. During this process of Turkification of the country, there emerged some brutal conflicts such as the 6-7 September events that targeted houses and properties of inhabitants. Those events brought about dramatic changes in the composition of inhabitants.

Transformation of the neighbourhood Tarlabasi in Istanbul

What has caused salient change in the characteristic of Beyoğlu are gentrification attempts of neo-liberal policies. The most visible result is the transformation of Tarlabasi, a neighbourhood within Beyoğlu. After the establishment of Tarlabasi Boulevard in the 80´s, it caused a complete segregation from the center. Now Tarlabasi is “the place where the police cannot enter´ with socially marginalized and economically disintegrated people, whose needs are immediate. It hosts refuges and sexually marginalized people as well. Recently, it is exposed to another urban gentrification policy which could cause sheltering problems for many.

Money is not the solution to social exclusion

On the other hand, since there is a good academic criticism in Turkey on any issue, all of them mostly pay attention to historical and theoretical explanation of current conflicts in Tarlabasi. It makes the problem too generalized and homogeneous to call Tarlabasi just a slum or the inhabitants marginalized people. The dynamics of the conflicts in Tarlabasi are quite intermingled, such as structural deprivation, ethnic polarization, gender, human trafficking, consumption of drugs, and child abuse issues. But it is crucial to note that, a good analysis of the conflict does not present us the solution automatically. For example, maybe most conflicts derive from economic reasons. However we cannot solve traumatized or abused people’s problems only by distributing money.

Need for a common solution instead of justifying historical debates

In order to create a relational transformation and integration of the city there is a strong need to sustain further ethnographic studies which is the only way to discover the real demands of the inhabitants. Meaning, instead of only sustaining structural changes, we need to discover the social fabric of particular districts so as to develop specific conflict resolution strategies. In that way, we get to know more about:

  •  the way of networking to reveal the inhabitants needs in a better way;
  •  troubles of males and transgender people, re-considering gender issue which only focuses on “women and children-debate;
  •  how inhabitants position themselves as a citizen within both Istanbul and Turkey;
  •  expectations about the future.

While there is a lively discussion on the integration of a city (within the country as well) the speeches are mostly in a form of offensive debates to justify their analysis. What we need today is to come together as academics, practitioners and NGO´s together in order to create a good resource mobilization. We only need to put the knowledge we have on the table together, instead of justifying theoretical explanations and past events. Like to get in contact with our ´Talking Cityzen´ Ayse Taspinar? Please send her an e-mail directly. 

Want to become a ´Talking Cityzen´?

Would you like to get more exposure among European researchers, network institutes and city policy makers? Writing a blog for the EMI Insider is a good way to get that exposure. If you are interested in writing a blog, please send an e-mail to with your name and your idea for a topic.

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