As a research group, we were concerned with Istanbul’s economical, cultural and social transformation into a global city over the past 50 years as well as the various effects of this transformation. During our travel to Istanbul Nora Kühnert and Anne Patscheider conducted field research on squatting in Istanbul. The political controversies regarding common usage of urban space in everyday life as well as the political struggles stemming from immense changes of social life culminating in the Gezi Park protest in 2013 were the most obvious links between the projects that they visited.

By the changing shape of the Istanbul skyline, the rapid growth of production within the city since the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) rose to power in 2002 is easily visible to the city’s inhabitants. Over the past two decades, Istanbul has undergone a neoliberal restructuring process. 1 Progressing globalization and digitalization have not only turned the city into a site absorbing surplus value – an epicenter of the accumulation of capital – they have also formed a new urban space in which traditional national spatial arrangements engage with those of the global digital age. 2

As a research group, we were concerned with Istanbul’s economic, cultural and social transformation into a global city over the past 50 years as well as the various effects of this transformation. During our travel to Istanbul from May 23, until May 31, 2014, we conducted field research on squatting in Istanbul. The political controversies regarding common usage of urban space in everyday life as well as the political struggles stemming from immense changes of social life culminating in the Gezi Park protest in 2013 were the most obvious links between the projects we visited.

In reference to David Harveys’ “Rebel Cities”, we call people’s occupation of Taksim Square “their right to the city” 3. In our field research, we intended to explore the political intentions of The Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi, a squat in Istanbul German leftist magazines focused on, calling it a “follow-up movement to Gezi.” 4 We asked ourselves in which way squatting in Istanbul is connected to the 2013 Gezi Park protest movement and how it relates to neoliberal politics and urban transformation. Our first associations were with squatting forms to be found in European countries such as Spain or Greece familiar to us. There, activists occupy houses in order to live in them. Reading David Harvey helped us understand the Gezi Park movement. Therefore, we presumed that his theory might also be of help in grasping squatting in Istanbul. Hence, we strove to comprehend the possibilities and difficulties connected to squatting as a resistance practice: 5 for example, we were concerned with the composition of squatting groups as well as their political aims and demands.

Mind Map: Our Field. Göttingen, 23.6.2014 © Kühnert, Nora; Patscheider, Anne

Mind Map: Our Field. Göttingen, 23.6.2014 © Kühnert, Nora; Patscheider, Anne


We conducted our main research at Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi. This social center was set up by a network of squatting groups in Istanbul as well as related political agents encouraged by economical processes beyond the squatting scene. We hoped that brief stays at Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi, the Caferağa Dayanışması, the Komşu Kafe and Samsa Bay, participant observation and guided interviews would provide insight into the inner configuration of Istanbul’s squatting scene. We interviewed people involved at the time of our research, asked them to draw mind maps of the squatting scene and questioned them about its constellation as well as their opinions on perspectives of resistance in Istanbul. In order to get an overview of the connections and networks of the squatting scene, we extended our fieldwork to interviewing a political activist who was a member of the 1970’s leftist movement. We also added attending lectures by Tuna Kuyucu 6 and Biray Kolluoğlu 7 at Boğaziçi University on neo-liberal politics in Istanbul and its effects on urban transformation and the social life in the city.


  1. 1 Kullouğlu, Biray/Candan, Ayfer Bartu: Emerging Spaces of Neoliberalism: “A gated Town and a Public Housing Project in Istanbul”, in: New Perspectives on Turkey 39 (2008) fall, pp. 5-47, here p. 5.
  2. 2 Sassen, Saskia: The Global City – The De-Nationalization of Time and Space, (last accessed July 2015).
  3. 3 Harvey, David: Rebel Cities. From The Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, London/New York, NY: verso books 2012.
  4. 4 Umul, Fatma: “Istanbul-Yeldegirmeni. Wir sind alle Don Quijote”, in: AK- Analyse und Kritik. Zeitung für linke Debatte und Praxis 590 (2014), (last accessed July 2015).
  5. 5 In the field of European Ethnology, the term “practice” is used to describe a certain way of investigating cultural phenomena. Classifying squatting as a resistant practice, we took a look at the past of resistance in Istanbul and how it is presently done in daily situations in the squats. Our definition of resistant practice refers to Henri Lefebvres and denotes an active or resistant intervention in the social production of space challenging the dominant production of space and temporarily creating a space of its own in opposition to it.
  6. 6 Lecture by Assoc. Prof. Tuna Kuyucu at Boğaziçi, University Istanbul, Department for Sociology: Commodification and Country Ownership in Istanbul, May 26, 2014.
  7. 7 Lecture by Assoc. Prof. Biray Kolluoğlu at Boğaziçi, University Istanbul, Department for Sociology: Global City Istanbul: Urban Transformation and ‘Gated Communities’, May 26, 2014.

After the Gezi Park protests were put to an end in the summer of 2013, people started to get together in local neighborhood parks and founded so-called neighborhood “forums.” Some protesters wished to maintain the often-mentioned “Gezi spirit”: They wanted to keep discussing political demands or ways of organizing amongst themselves. At this point, the slogan “Everywhere Taksim – Everywhere Resistance” was established beyond the borders of Turkey. As the year passed and the weather grew too cold for these weekly assemblies, the activists of the “Yeldeğirmeni solidarity (Dayanışması)” forum in Kadıköy started discussing the option of occupying an empty building.


Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi

Stemming from these forums, “Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi” (Don Quijote Social Centre) came into existence. The property concerned had been abandoned for many years. It was considered suitable for an occupation as a result of its ownership rights being disputed. In the beginning, the newly formed community came together to renovate the shell of the building. Everybody involved worked voluntarily, often in addition to a day job or studying. In the meantime, two weekly assemblies were formed to discuss issues concerning the social center or political activities people were interested in. Apart from the assemblies, people got together to socialize, eat together and play games but also to do workshops or plan political activities. The property is spacious enough for art exhibitions and graffiti. On the upper floor, participants installed a give-away or sharing shop and experimented with indoor gardening. The main reason for occupying the building cited by the activists was to reinforce neighborhood solidarity. Another aim was to reorganize and reshape social space in a way “commons” are created.

Komşu Kafe

The Komşu Kafe Collective is an autonomous, self-organized café in Kadıköy  existing since summer 2013 and, like the Don Kişot social center, was opened in the “Gezi spirit.” Naming the café “Komşu” (English “neighbor”) emphasizes that everyone is invited to participate. In the manifesto, Komşu Kafe is described as a common space due to a perceived citywide lack of such space. In the café, everyone shall feel equal and autonomous at the same time. Every person is free to go behind the counter to prepare hot beverages for themselves or for others and people are free to pay whatever they can afford. The Komşu-Collectivistas see their concept as a contribution to an alternative economy undermining the capitalist system.

Samsa Squat

Several former Don Kişot activists no longer supporting all decisions regarding the social center in the Duatepe Street decided to squat in another building in Kadıköy near the Sali market. The start of their disagreement was a padlock installed at the social center’s door. In the eyes of some squat activists, this was a mechanism of exclusion creating hierarchies. Furthermore, the activists meant to create a place that was more than a social center: A squat as known in various European cities such as Barcelona, Milan, Athens, Amsterdam or Berlin, a squat to not only have political meetings in but also to live collectively. The squat was called Samsa, after Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Franz Kafkas “The Metamorphosis.” The name was chosen as a reference to the Don Kişot Social Centre named after Miguel de Cervantes’ novel. One of the founding members of the Samsa Squat told us he wanted to live his life as far as possible outside of “the system.” To him, this meant resistance in everyday life: not being part of consumerism at all. He and many activists of the Kadıköy squatting scene want people and neighbors to organize every aspect of their life by themselves in form of a direct democracy. Therefore, concepts like “solidarity”, “neighborhood” and “autonomy” as well as “collectiveness” are important, constituent parts of their political approach, which can be described as “creating commons”.


Samsa Squat, Kadıköy, Istanbul ©

Caferağa Dayanışması Mahalle Evi

The Caferağa Dayanışması (Caferaga Solidarity) is another squatting community center in Kadiköy. When the after-Gezi activists of the Yeldeğirmeni Solidarity Forum decided to occupy the building, it was abandoned and in need of an enormous amount of renovation. From the squat’s facebook page and blog posts, we gathered that it had been evicted by the Turkish Riot Police on the 9th of December 2014. A report of the events can be found via the following link:


In Istanbul, we did not discover just one squat but a whole squatting scene. The squats in Kadıköy were rarely used as places to live in. Participants told us that they do try to learn from squats in Europe like in Spain or Greece, but that Istanbul’s squats mainly function as neighborhood forums. They are autonomous social centers of their respective neighborhoods. Through the squats, volunteers get in contact with their neighbors to brainstorm and discuss problems emerging for example from urbanization policies in Istanbul. In addition, the social centers are places to spend time together. They are meeting points for activists, (Erasmus) students, artists or employees exchanging political ideas and concepts of practices. Due to one of the participants, occupying houses in Istanbul is not about taking over new places to live but rather about creating a space for your own way of living and thinking. The activists want to establish squatting in Istanbul like in Spain and Greece and say that they want to learn from the experiences made in these countries.

(Im)Possibilities of neighborhood forums and resistance practices in Istanbul

All activists we interviewed mostly referred to Harvey, Hardt as well as Negri and described the squats as an attempt of “commons” materializing the goal of reclaiming urban spaces. Like occupying Taksim, squatting can be read as a call for the right to participate in Istanbul’s spatial and material development as well as an attempt to resist neo-liberal politics, gentrification and expropriation connected to Istanbul steadily developing into a global city, which is kind of a “brutal place” 1 to live in. In a recent publication called “Cool Istanbul – Urban Enclosures and Resistances” based on a conference in November 2013 related to a DFG-funded project, Aras Özgü provided an outlook on the future of upcoming resistance in Istanbul. He emphasized

“that Gezi Park protests brought an important novelty to Turkish radical politics […], the protesters reclaimed the urban commons that had been taken from them.” 2 Squats in Istanbul are an actual continuation of radical politics of similar importance and intentions. By creating a place that connects subversive artistic politics with radical practices, they are facing a great number of challenges: When asked about the squatting scene’s perspectives, participants active in Don Kişot Sosyal Merkezi emphasized the fact that political commitment while studying or/and having a job required a lot of energy. Everybody is working at their neighborhood forums voluntarily; most of the participants are students, artists or middle class workers. Most of the time, there is not even enough energy available to discuss the different political aims while also maintaining an everyday life as a precarious worker. Establishing contact with recent migrants or minorities living in highly conflict laden neighborhoods and the articulation of their interests in the city could not be achieved in full. Thus, in order to generate solidarity, the activists focused on the direct needs of the neighborhood instead. Again, the goals of those marginalized by neo-liberal policies and the global city such as transnational migrants and minority groups could not be included in an established form of political commitment.

The various legal changes to the status quo alter the way the global city Istanbul develops in such a drastic and rapid way that even the squatting of buildings cannot impede. If the Yeldeğirmeni or Kadıköy districts become more profitable for private or public-private investors in the future, the political desire to clear the area of subversive, anti-capitalist projects like cafés or neighborhood forums will develop. It is questionable whether the new forms of solidarity present in the Kadıköy neighborhoods will spread to other districts and generate a wider movement of people searching for and building different forms of non-profitable relationships within capitalist society due to the rather small numbers of people committed to squatting.


  1. 1 Meister, Franziska: “Interview mit Saskia Sassen: ‘Die Global City ist ein brutaler Ort‘”, in: Die Wochenzeitung 25 (2012), (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 Özgün, Aras: “The Value of Art and the Political Economy of Cool”, in: Özkan, Derya: Cool Istanbul. Urban Enclosures and Resistances, Bielefeld: Transcript 2015, pp. 35-61, here p. 56.

In his research Mathias Fiedler illuminates the situation of refugees and migrants in the, so called, transit country Turkey. He did several in-depth interviews in Istanbul – some as a follow-up to his research he did for the project “Bordermonitoring Bulgaria“. Latest informations were collected afterwards via telephone and social media.


As I walked through the streets of downtown Istanbul, I saw a young man with a child sitting on the curb, begging for money. In the proximity of the big shopping street İstiklal Caddesi as well as in other parts of Beyoğlu, I noticed more people doing the same. As I could read on self-made signs positioned on front of them, many of them were refugees.

Often, children and other family members were begging for money 1. As refugees told me, some of them slept in the street, in parks or in abandoned buildings. After the outburst of the Syrian civil war, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey reached to 1.7 Million in April 2015 2 –one year before, the NGO Mazlum Der had already registered around 300.000 Syrian refugees in Istanbul 3.

For a long time, there has been no guaranteed refugee-status in Turkey for people coming from non-European countries due to the so-called “geographical limitation“ 4. In April 2013, a new “law on foreigners and international protection” 5 was passed by Turkey’s Grand National Assembly with the geographical limitation remaining in effect. Nevertheless, there are many people in Turkey who, having fled (civil) war or searching for a better life, are awaiting resettlement. Others transit the country in search for a way into the European Union.

Migrants in Turkey who want to apply for asylum have to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in Ankara or – since 2013 – at the Association of Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) 6. The registration constitutes the precondition to being resettled into another country. After registration, most migrants are not allowed to work. The state decides where they are permitted to live; often, it is in small satellite cities. As few migrants want to stay there, there is a constant flow towards the bigger cities. Syrians were seen as ‘guests’ until 2014 7, not as ‘refugees’ according to Turkish law. They cannot register at the UNHCR for resettlement. Until today, their status is unclear and seen as temporary 8.

From time to time, protests against refugees in Istanbul arose. A bigger protest took place in August 2014, when around 300 Turkish citizens clashed with the police and windows were broken in the suburb of İkitelli, Küçükçekmece 9. This was not the first agitation against Syrian refugees in Turkey. In July 2014, similar incidents took place in the cities of Kahramanmaraş, Adana and Gaziantep. In Antalya, the Governor’s office asked more than 1.500 Syrian refugees to leave the city. The office justified the issued notifications with accusations of “social and economic tension” as well as damaging the tourism industry 10. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, mayor of Istanbul, came up with the idea of deporting the begging refugees back to camps in south of the country 11. There, the situation is problematic for many refugees. As I was told by people that had visited or lived in these camps themselves, one can find the inhabitants of whole villages that fled from war together in a camp.

We met François, 12 a long-term refugee activist from Ruanda, who has been living in Istanbul for many years. As he tried to explain the protests against Syrian refugees, he stated:

“Of course Syrian people are getting such kind of small jobs, then they get small money, and then maybe Turkish people, they will not, you know. Turkish people when they get salary, they need big salary. But Syrians, because they want to survive, they will take all kind of small jobs and then young Turkish people think that Syrians are stealing jobs from them, such kind of things.”


  1. 1 For more information see Sauter, Dieter: Syrische Flüchtlinge in der Türkei – Betteln, Teller waschen, Müll sammeln, in: WOZ 49 (2014). (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 European Commission. Humanitarian Aid for Civil and Protection: Eco Fact Sheet: Syria Crisis, April 2015, (last accessed July 2015)
  3. 3 Kirişci, Kemal: Syrian refugees and Turkey’s challenges: Going beyond hospitality, Washington/D.C.: Brookings Institution 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  4. 4 Kaya, Ibrahim: Reform in the Turkish Asylum Law: Adopting the EU acquis? CARIM Research Reports (2009) 16, European University Institute, Robert Schuhmann Centre for Advances Studies, pp. 2-4, (last accessed July 2015).
  5. 5 The whole law is accessible via the Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Interior, Directorate General of Migration Management: Law No. 6458 on 2013 on Foreigners and International Protection, April, 4 2013, available at: (last accessed July 2015).
  6. 6 Ibid., p. 9.
  7. 7 Schläfli, Samuel (2016): Interview with Şenay Özden: (last accessed May 2016).
  8. 8 Ibid., p. 14.
  9. 9 For more information, see “Turkey protest in Istanbul over Syrian refugees”, BBC News August 25, 2014, (last accessed July 2015); N.N.: Tension rises as Turks allegedly beaten up by Syrians, Today’s Zaman, August 25, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  10. 10 Baş, Kenan: Antalya Governor’s Office orders Syrian refugees to leave province, Today’s Zaman, December 24, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  11. 11 Istanbul may place Syrian refugees in camps, Al Jazeera July 16, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  12. 12 I have changed the name of every interview partner in this article.

Queerstanbul – Aspects of love, gender and sexuality inside daily life of LGBTIQ*

The research project is part of the seminar “Global City Istanbul” and formed up to an exhibition project. Funded by the program “Kreativität im Studium”, the Integrationsrat Göttingen and the University of Göttingen the group visited Istanbul once again during the Pride Week 20014. The results of the research were shown in Göttingen during an exhibition in December 2014. 

Text by Susanne Klenke and Laura Stonies

Shortfilm by Margaux Jeanne Erdmann


The district Beyoğlu is situated in the center of Istanbul’s European side. By the end of the year 2012, Beyoğlu had nearly 250.000 residents. İstiklal Caddesi, the largest shopping street of Istanbul, starts at Taksim Square and extends about 2 km to the historic narrow-gauge railway station Tünel. In side streets off İstiklal, shops, bars, cafés and restaurants sit close together. Every day, a dense mass of thousands of people flows over the asphalt until the early morning hours. The queer center of the city lies here. Thus, in one of these side streets near Taksim Square, the oldest gay bar of Istanbul, “Morkedi/Café de Paris”, is located.

Homo- and transsexual people are more visible in Beyoğlu’s cityscape than in other parts of the metropolis. In conversations, homo- and transsexual persons stated that the public LGBTIQ* everyday life as well as the higher visibility of homosexuals and transsexuals in Beyoğlu stems from increasing internationalization mainly influenced by tourism. Several statements illustrate the downtown area’s specific atmosphere and status within urban culture. Compared to other parts of the city, a free and open life is possible and, furthermore, socially accepted.

“Downtown area of Istanbul is open minded. People are open minded. But people in Anatolya, Kapadokya, Pamukkale, people are not open minded! […] You can see all of gay man at Taksim square district and maybe you don’t recognized you can see all the lesbian in the streets as well. But we are talking about Taksim. Kadiköy, Shishane. But if you go to the suburbs like … you know. Not downtown even a man and woman […] cannot walk hand in hand. This is not only for gay people.” (CEO Pride Travel Agency)

Every year since 2003, the group “LGBTI Istanbul” has organized Istanbul’s LGBTIQ* Pride March. After modest beginnings with 30 participants in its first year, July 2013 saw thousands of homo-, bi- hetero- and transsexuals opposing Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and homophobia with Gezi Park-protesters in Taskim square expressing their solidarity. The number of participants increased immensely to 50.000 in 2013 and redoubled in 2014 with approximately 100.000 participants. The LGBTIQ* Pride March is considered the biggest Pride Event in South Eastern Europe. Despite this public expression of queer sexual identities, homo- and transphobia still pose a severe problem.

Pridemarch 2014

By 2014, various groups, individuals and organizations had gotten involved in the organization. In Istanbul, Pride Week begins with the Trans Pride March on Sunday and ends with the Gay Pride March the following weekend. The separate marches originate from Trans groups having been underrepresented in LGB contexts and not feeling accepted. Therefore, they demanded a March of their own. In recent years, the audience of the Marches mixed and many people attended both demonstrations.

At the end of May 2014, we travelled to Istanbul for the first time. During our week-long stay, we made initial contacts and gained first insights into Istanbul’s queer life. We met many different activists concerned with queer life, advocacy and resistance who let us into their life for a moment, told us their stories, eased our introduction to the queer networks of the city and were of great help in getting to know the city’s queer life.

The aim of our second research trip was to deepen established contacts and gain better access to the field. Pride Week provided us with a good opportunity to document the diversity of queer life and activism. This is how, in June 2014, we were part of the 100.000 visitors of Pride Week protesting, singing, dancing and celebrating for the rights of LGBTQ*. In the spirit of that year’s Pride’s motto, “Temas” (contact), we accompanied queer people in Istanbul, took part in forums, panels and workshops, interviewed, spoke to and debated with Pride visitors, organizers, hosts, artists and activists.

Programme 2014

Hormonlu Domates


© Queerstanbul 2014

As a form of public resistance to the media’s portrayal of LGBTIQ*, the Hormonlu Domates Homofobi ve Transfobi ÖDÜLLERI (“Genetically Modified Tomato Homo / Trans / Biphobia Awards”) was founded in 2005 and is organized by LambdaIstanbul. It is awarded to public figures that made homo-, trans- or biphobic statements in the media. The event’s name was chosen in reference to athlete Erman Toroğlu’s statement that genetically manipulated tomatoes would be responsible for people becoming homosexual 1.

The public award ceremony was held in June 2014 in the old cinema of the municipality of Şişli’s cultural center. Mademoiselle Coco chaired this event complemented by performances of queer artists. As a self-empowerment strategy of LGBTIQ* organizers and visitors, the recipients were first projected on a big screen. Their statements were played again during the nomination as a parody and deconstruction of the statements. None of the nominees appeared to accept the award.

Appropriation of public space (during the march)

Crucial elements of the marches were the rainbow and Trans flags. The participants were covering İstiklal Street in its length and whole width with huge rainbow flags, waving and swinging them. Besides these giant flags carried through İstiklal Street in a collaborate effort, so-called Lollipops, protest signs in the shape of a circle, contributed to the creativeness and detail-rich composition of the Pride March. As an act of protest, these Lollipops were also utilized during the marches to label and annotate certain objects such as the police’s water cannons, shops and stores along İstiklal Street and, for example, the entrance gate of the Russian consulate.

Furthermore, viewers and visitors gathered on the balconies, windows and rooftops of the surrounding buildings. Starting at Takism Square, the ending point of the Pride March was Tünel, where the artwork of artist Ayse Erkmen, a huge tower built in 1994, is located. Again, people ascended and decorated the tower with Lollipops and rainbow flags.

Agreement Erdogan Regierung


© Mehmet Gündüz 2014

There is an informal “agreement” with the municipal authorities that the state agencies not interfere with the demonstration. Therefore, the Pride March is the only demonstration not interrupted by police. This is also related to the strong interest of Western media and press representatives documenting the March and reporting on it. A young member of the organizational team old us:

“But the only demonstration they let is the LGBTI-Pride here in Istanbul. We think that international solidarity is the major support that we have. In Europe we have a strong network here so we can make our voices heard by other people in Europe. It’s like a pressure on Turkish government.”

Nevertheless the march was attacked by the police in 2015. 2

Minorities at the March

This example of a Kurdish Trans group illustrates that the Pride March provides a platform for demands for political and social recognition and to demonstrate ethnic and political identities. Moreover, it is a chance to call attention to intersectional discrimination.

Here, the demonstrating group used imaginations of traditions to contribute to and take part in the Pride March. By wearing clothes labeled as traditional such as hair bands in the Kurdish colors green, yellow and red, playing musical instruments like drums, using dance and sounds, they express their Kurdish identity. Using visual and auditory media, their transsexuality as well as Kurdish identity becomes visible, audible and, thus, noticeable. As the only demonstration in Istanbul tolerated without interference, the March provides minorities with the opportunity to call attention to their isolation and exclusion from mainstream society, to break the silence, to demonstrate resistance and to put their situation on the agenda.

Transnational solidarity relationship in the organization of Pride Week


© Mehmet Gündüz

Within the organizational structures of the Pride March, transnational relations play an important role. The demonstration receives support from Western European countries and their state representatives in Istanbul. For example, the British consulate raised the rainbow flag on the day of the Pride March. The Dutch and the Swedish consulates opened their gates for events and support the activists financially. A commercialization of the Pride Week, such as sponsorship of individual companies, though, is rejected by the activists.

“I mean these changes are happening really rapidly in a way because the movement is going for 22 years in Istanbul and Turkey as well. But at the same time these 22 years are efficient enough to finance any economic sources. But one point is really important for Pride: We are not taking sponsorship; we are not working with any firms. Non-profit-events are happening.”

LamdaIstanbul situated the onset of international solidarity, support, cooperation and assistance in the year 2007. (Homepage Lambda)

“It’s not only happening by itself in Istanbul, it brings all people from Turkey and Kurdistan. At the same time it is also a nice place as Pride to express your own existence from Iran, Syria and Balkan as well.” (Activists from the organization team)

There is no financial funding by the Turkish government. When inquiring about this in regard to the funding of the Pride Week, a young activist of the organization team told us:

“There is no aim that the government is supporting the LGBT-activism or the LGBT-social rights in Turkey. And also they have an open homophobia politic. Recently they shouted from the parliament that we are sick, that for Turkey LGBTI-rights is not important at all. […] We organized parties in our community. We gather people and collect funds for Pride Week. Other than that it’s mostly the European Consulates here supporting the Pride Week. This is how we gather funds actually.”


  1. 1 “Hormonlu domates yemeyin homoseksüel olursunuz.”, 2005
  2. 2 and (last accessed on July 7, 2015

Lisa Szepan‘s text evolved as a result of the seminar “Global City Istanbul” and is based on interviews with Syrian students, who had fled the war in their home country to survive and continue their education abroad. During the field trip in May 2014, the young men talked to the researcher personally and kept communicating through digital media afterwards.

In Aksaray, where many Syrians live, there are currently more than ten Syrian restaurants, Isan told me. Whenever he missed Syrian food, such as bean dishes and humus, he went there. The further broadening of Istanbul’s already global culinary infrastructure is one side effect of the Syrians’ active presence in the city. Outside Isan’s university and work life, he also occasionally had contact to Syrian people living at the outskirts of Istanbul, in areas like Sutanbeyli – there, he said, it is possible to rent a house at around 300 lira per month.

“It’s a, as if it is a village – not exactly a city, but it is still inside Istanbul. It is still considered inside of Istanbul, but it is a poor place, it is a very poor place.” (Isan, October 20,2014)

Far relatives of his stay in the area close to the city’s second airport, Sabiha Gökçen. According to Isan, they received support by the municipality, the Sultanbeyli belediyesi, for furnishings.

For describing the current relationship between Turkish and Syrian people, Isan found plain words when I asked him whether he had noticed the recent protests against Syrian migrants, for example in Ikitelli, Istanbul:

“Right now, you can obviously see that the Turkish people have lost their patience towards the Syrian issue.” (Isan, October 20, 2014)

He explained that the protests have been reactions to criminal acts of poor Syrian refugees, mostly theft, and that he understood both the Turkish people’s anger and the desperation of many of his compatriots.

“[…] as you can expect, people coming from a country that is broken, some of them are going to be broken also.” (Isan, May 29, 2014)

While showing his understanding for the Turkish people’s reaction towards social ‘misbehavior’ of refugees, he nevertheless referred to the protesters as lower educated and “not the most civilized Turkish people”, thereby implying that it is not the whole of Turkish society building up against Syrians. However, in official AKP government statements towards the Syrian issue until the end of 2012, the prevailing discourse was one of Turkey’s grandeur reflected in its selfless and conscientious support of the Syrian population in- and outside the war-shattered country. 1


  1. 1 Demirtas-Bagdonas, Özlem: “Reading Turkey’s Foreign Policy on Syria: The AKP’s Construction of a Great Power Identity and the Politics of Grandeur”, in: Turkish Studies 15 (2014) 1, pp. 139-155.

The aim of the research project Street Art in Istanbul was to look at the diversity of art in the public space. The widespread use of art – from political purposes to aesthetic reasons – demonstrates the diverse ideas of artists and city dwellers to live with and within their city. Lea Stöver‘s research project is part of the seminar “Global City Istanbul”.

Within the Gezi Park protests the penguin became a powerful symbol visible all over Istanbul. This happened after the Turkish TV broadcasted a documentary about penguins instead of reporting the protests. At that time, dozens of symbols, tags, murals etc. were expressing the ideas and claims of the protests. Learning about this from German media, I began to ask whether, during the protest, street art became a medium of expression. Furthermore, was street art a feasible way to oppose official media dominated by censorship and political arbitrariness? And does this mean that people doing street art realize what David Harvey calls “the right to the city”?

But first of all, what is street art? The philosopher Nicholas A. Riggle highlights three characteristics in his attempt to define street art: the anonymity of the artists, the disconnection of street art from the art world and its power to engage the masses. 1 For Riggle, these characteristics arise from the way street art uses public space in a double sense: First, the street is used in its physical composition and becomes an “artistic resource” 2; second, the fact that street art is public and ephemeral becomes meaningful to the art. Riggle concludes: “An artwork is street art if, and only if, its material use of the street is internal to its meaning.” 3 This approach might help to understand why street art could become a medium within the Gezi Park protests. Among other things, these protests were directed against mega projects of urban transformation in Istanbul, processes transforming the city and changing the rights to live in and with it. According to David Harvey, the right to the city includes not only the right to use the resources of a city individually or conjointly but also the right to change the city and to reinvent it again and again. 4 This leads to the question whether street art in Istanbul appearing during the protests in 2013 struggled for the right to the city by using the street as a medium.

By May 2014, the street art created during the protests in 2013 had been “deleted” (that means covered up with grey and white paint). The results of this “cleaning” were still visible all over Beyoğlu, but especially in the Gezi Park. Physically, the Park was retransformed from the center of protests back to an ordinary park, but this transformation did not stay invisible. The trees in Gezi Park whose planned cutting caused the beginning of the protests, were full of grey and white spots covering up writing or stencils made during the protests. 

M., a street artist and expert on the scene, drew the following comparison:

“AKP and Recep Tayyip they are so much pressing on the press, the media, on documentaries, anywhere. So they are doing the same thing to street art as well.” 5

He explained how fast graffiti and stencils made by the protesters containing political messages were covered by the police or staff from the municipality. Sometimes, this happened just hours after the graffiti or stencils were painted.

But walking through Beyoğlu, Taksim, Gezi Park, Cihangir and Kadiköy showed me that street art in Istanbul is still vibrant and diverse. Hence, I was not able to confirm or withdraw my initial assumption about street art as a claim for the right to the city. But the different purposes of street art I identified make clear that Nicholas A. Riggle’s characterization needs to be differentiated and that street art in Istanbul may be seen as a reflection of different, opposing ideas of how to live in and with the city. In the light of the events of the year 2013, it is probably most interesting to examine how street art finds itself between commodification and economic needs on the one hand and as a medium of the protest against a government that furthers precisely these ideas and values within a new state capitalism on the other hand. Therefore, street art in Istanbul cannot be subsumed under the mere slogan of art in the public space but must be researched in a more differentiated manner.


  1. 1 Cf. Riggle, Nicholas A.: “Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces”, in: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 68 (2010) 3, pp. 243-257, here p. 243.
  2. 2 Riggle, Nicholas A.: “Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces”, in: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 68 (2010) 3, pp. 243-257, here p. 245.
  3. 3  Riggle, Nicholas A.: “Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces”, in: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 68 (2010) 3, pp. 243-257, here p. 246.
  4. 4 Harvey, David: Rebellische Städte, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2013, p. 28.
  5. 5 Interview with M. on May 25, 2014.

The side streets of İstiklâl Caddesi are dominated by the art of Luxury Hands, a company founded by six street artists, amongst them Leo Lunatic and Mr. Hure. You find pandas, spray cans, tags and other symbols typically used by these artists all over Beyoğlu. Nur-i Ziya Sokak, a small street off İstiklâl Caddesi, is just one example. When entering this street, you are welcomed by one of Leo Lunatics pandas, a small café follows. The owner of the café explained to me that the artist was his friend. Leo Lunatic and his colleagues from Luxury Hands painted the walls around the café. But this is not all – along the small street, downhill, there are more murals and tags by the same artists.

Besides the grey and white spots, this kind of street art is the most visible around İstiklâl Caddesi. This simultaneity of pandas and white spots demonstrates that there is an art which is accepted by the municipality and another which is unwanted or even feared. The art and the activities of Leo Lunatic and his colleagues are accepted. Some of their murals are directly tagged on facebook, twitter and instagram. Even if you cannot find their real names via social media, you can contact them and see them on photos or videos. This means they willingly break their anonymity. Therefore, the category of street art must be broadened again: Street artists in Istanbul can be popular and their art can be accepted by the municipality and population. This art carries no explicit political message in itself but becomes political in contrast to the white spots surrounding it.