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

Research

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.

Fußnoten:

  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, http://90.146.8.18/en/archiv_files/20021/E2002_018.pdf (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), http://www.akweb.de/ak_s/ak590/21.htm (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.

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.”

Fußnoten:

  1. 1 For more information see Sauter, Dieter: Syrische Flüchtlinge in der Türkei – Betteln, Teller waschen, Müll sammeln, in: WOZ 49 (2014). https://www.woz.ch/-5770 (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 European Commission. Humanitarian Aid for Civil and Protection: Eco Fact Sheet: Syria Crisis, April 2015, http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/syria_en.pdf (last accessed July 2015)
  3. 3 Kirişci, Kemal: Syrian refugees and Turkey’s challenges: Going beyond hospitality, Washington/D.C.: Brookings Institution 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2014/05/12-turkey-syrian-refugees-kirisci/syrian-refugees-and-turkeys-challenges-may-14-2014.pdf (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, http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/11849/CARIM_RR_2009_16.pdf?sequence=2 (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: http://www.goc.gov.tr/files/files/eng_minikanun_5_son.pdf (last accessed July 2015).
  6. 6 Ibid., p. 9.
  7. 7 Schläfli, Samuel (2016): Interview with Şenay Özden: http://www.tageswoche.ch/de/2016_16/international/716427/ (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, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28926956 (last accessed July 2015); N.N.: Tension rises as Turks allegedly beaten up by Syrians, Today’s Zaman, August 25, 2014, http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_Pension-rises-as-turks-allegedly-beaten-up-by-syrians-in-istanbul_356714.html (last accessed July 2015).
  10. 10 Baş, Kenan: Antalya Governor’s Office orders Syrian refugees to leave province, Today’s Zaman, December 24, 2014, http://www.todayszaman.com/national_antalya-governors-office-orders-syrian-refugees-to-leave-province_367929.html (last accessed July 2015).
  11. 11 Istanbul may place Syrian refugees in camps, Al Jazeera July 16, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/07/istanbul-may-force-syrian-refugees-into-camps-20147161740029946.html (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

 

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

DSC_0042

© 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

20140629_175633

© 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

IMG_1931

© 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.”

Fußnoten:

  1. 1 “Hormonlu domates yemeyin homoseksüel olursunuz.”, 2005
  2. 2 http://www.kaosgl.com/page.php?id=19733 and http://lgbtinewsturkey.com/2015/06/28/press-statement-for-istanbul-2015-lgbti-pride-march/ (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.

Despite the active interest in the Syrian war, my interviewee’s reactions towards the recent Gezi-park protests were rather cautious, expressing the will to distance themselves from the events:

“Actually I did not come out, because I do not want to have any problem here, we are, we came from the war and we do not want to get more trouble here.” (Nadim, May 30, 2014)

On the other hand, a lack of understanding was expressed towards the notion of Turkish society feeling oppressed by the current government:

“Well, coming from a country such as Syria, I cannot see that how Turkish people oppressed. I don’t know, maybe from someone from Germany you can see it [laughs].” (Isan, May 29, 2014)

A similar perspective was taken on police violence during the 2013 upheavals:

“They said that the police was, was brutal. In what way was the police brutal [laughs]? Yeah, it’s funny for us, because they were shooting water at people? Oh come on, this is like very luxurious for us to shoot water at people. We get bullets, normally.” (Isan, May 29, 2014)

Against the background of still having family members in Syria living under life-threatening conditions, Gezi protests appeared to be an issue for the Turkish natives to my interview partners. There was a clear hierarchy of relevance with a focus on changing the situation in Syria and not in Turkey, which was mainly appreciated for its function as a loyal host. However, my interviewees expressed some skepticism towards the reasons the Turkish government had had for opening up its borders for Syrians so seemingly unconditionally.

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.

Fußnoten:

  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.