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.

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

During the Pride Week in June 2014, we met Merve C. at a discussion panel on “Sex Laboratory” Merve participated in as representative of the Trans Solidarity Networks. She invited us to her home the Sunday morning before the Gay Pride March and told us about her daily life, professional difficulties she was facing and how she earned her living as a sex worker. Also, she spoke about the Trans Movement and the significance it holds for her. The visit is documented in the short film “Breakfast at Merve’s” by Margaux J. Erdmann:


Judicial situation in Turkey

Only in 1988, a legal procedure for name and sex changes of transsexuals was established with the introduction of an additional paragraph to Art. 29 of the Turkish Civil Code. As a consequence, a person’s entry in the civil register can be amended after a “successful sex change“. 1 The starting point of this development was brought about by a transgender woman who had sex reassignment surgery abroad and then wanted to modify her civil registration entry.

Since 2002, Art. 40 of the Turkish Civil Code also regulates the pre- and post -operational procedures of a sex change: 2 Anyone wanting to change their sex may apply in person for the court’s permission of the sex change. For the permission to be granted, the applicant must be at least eighteen years of age and unmarried, must provide the official Health Commission with a report obtained from a teaching hospital stating that their “transsexual nature” makes a sex change absolutely necessary for their mental health and that the person concerned permanently renders themselves infertile. If the official Health Commission confirms that the operation corresponding to the permission granted has been accomplished, the court decides on adjustments to be made in the birth register. According to this legislation, transsexuals wanting to adjust their sex in the civil register are forced to provide a medical certificate certifying their sexual identity. This legally pathologizes transsexuality. The fact that the sex reassignment surgery necessary for a sex change is accompanied by mandatory sterilization is also to be critically considered.


  1. 1 Atamer, Yesim M.: “Türkei“, in: Basedow, Jürgen/Scherpe, Jens (eds.): Transsexualität, Staatsangehörigkeit und internationales Privatrecht. Entwicklungen in Europa, Amerika und Australien, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2004, pp. 74-79, here p. 74.
  2. 2 Atamer, Yesim M.: “Türkei“, in: Basedow, Jürgen/Scherpe, Jens (eds.): Transsexualität, Staatsangehörigkeit und internationales Privatrecht. Entwicklungen in Europa, Amerika und Australien, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2004, pp. 74-79, here p. 76

The idea of a research on the Erasmus programme and its manifestations in Istanbul was to ask why students from all over Europe chose Istanbul as their destination and how they are living in the global city. The project of Anna Schäfer and Laura Lamping highlights different perspectives of doing Erasmus in Istanbul: from the bureaucratic burdens of universities, to student’s romanticism of living in “the exotic East” and their ways of living between Erasmus Parties and protest movements.

The Taksim district is located in the center of Istanbul – on the European side. There is almost no place in Istanbul anymore where you have this much space to move. The Taksim Square is a well-known public area playing a significant role in our interviews. Taksim transformed – over the last centuries – to a very complex district. It is a place to live, a place to party and to protest.

Drawing on Erving Goffmann, Taksim Square can be called the place for political action: Here, the players become aware of each other and interact. The players structure the public space and make their behavior apparent to the media. 1 If you have the intention of transporting a message to the public, such a well-known place is an obvious choice. For international students, Taksim Square is fraught with these political overtones. Therefore, they planned for their political protests (in this case, a human chain) to take place in Taksim as long as it was not too dangerous. If they were worried about the police, they would pick another place for their project. 2

There is also another side of this district: the party scene. Many bars and restaurants are located around the Taksim Square. They are known for their international guests. Therefore, Erasmus coordinators, mentors and party organizer advise international students to go there to get in touch with other students. To U. from the student organization The Best Party Life (BPL) and M. from the Erasmus office of one of Istanbul’s universities, Taksim was the indisputable nexus of the party and Erasmus scene. U. was able to name typical Erasmus bars and clubs. The Erasmus students N. and M. confirmed that as an Erasmus student, you are told by these external actors where Erasmus life is going on: “The Turkish people also go there with the Erasmus students because they know it is where the Erasmus students go” 3. “It is the tradition that they [the Erasmus students] always have to go to Taksim to enjoy and have fun [in their orientation week]” 4. Therefore, Taksim is one of the first places they become acquainted with. There are clubs offering special Erasmus parties; a club culture has developed around the Erasmus Programme.

As shown by the aforementioned, different actors reproduce the image of Taksim as a party place and therefore reproduce the Erasmus Programme as a semester of drinking and having fun in clubs. The whole network around the Erasmus Programme is attuned to this kind of entertainment. But surely, not every incoming student uses this network for their own entertainment.

Against this background, it is not surprising that a lot of incoming people wish to live close to Taksim – for whatever reason. Some like to live in a way they know from home:

“Around Taksim square and Istiklal Street, it is a very nice living. Advantages are the possibility of reaching the most of the interesting night life by foot, as well as the nice atmosphere of the districts Cihangir and Galata, especially for our Western taste.” 5.

Thus, it became clear in the interviews we led that certain districts are associated with a specific lifestyle and social values. Most of our interview partners differentiated between living in Kadiköy, on the Asian side, and living in districts like Taksim or Beşiktaş on the European side. The established image of the districts on the European side as being Western with an international flair, hip, modern and lively is imparted by these actors. They partake in the perpetual, long-standing reproduction of a certain symbolic social character of a quarter.

Living and Staying in Istanbul – Erasmus Students as “Gentrifiers”? 

Another aspect to deal with in the context of Erasmus life in Istanbul is the accommodation of Erasmus students in the city. It is to be considered whether they might be contributing to the gentrification processes in a distinct way. As Günther Glebe and Helmut Schneider, Philip Clay and Jens Dangschat indicate, the population of a certain urban district contributes to its attractiveness as well as its symbolic value and a change in population might lead to the reevaluation of a quarter by the city government 6. An increasing number of small groups of people willing to take risks – like „Studierende, Kulturproduzierende und Alternative“ 7 – settling in rather unattractive places might add a new symbolic quality to a district, which in turn could entail an economic reevaluation and growing interest of investment firms. The so-called “pioneers” of gentrification (or in short “gentrifiers”) first change the character of the neighborhood, push out long-established inhabitants and, in later stages, will be replaced by further “gentrifiers” themselves. 8

As M. told us, most of the people involved with Erasmus in Istanbul live in quarters are also known as ‘student districts’: Taksim, Beşiktaş, Mecidiyeköy, Kadiköy, Üsküdar and Osmanbey 9. The reasons for this settlement pattern lie in infrastructure: the proximity both to the universities and – for some of them – to Taksim district. Of course this kind of “inner city orientation” or “conglomeration of Erasmus students in certain districts” 10 holds true for students in general. Ultimately, the choice of residents depends on their own specific interests. Some of the people involved with Erasmus preferred living on the Asian side – which was described to us as a rather calm part of town with stronger neighborhood relationships – others preferred a central address near the (evening) leisure programme where they would not be dependent on bus or ferry to go home in the evening. A student apprentice at Aydin University accepted a longer way to her working place in order to live in Taksim. Others chose to live in districts like Tarlabaşi or Fatih.

Additionally, the network of actors involved in the Erasmus Programme working together has a great influence on the living situation of the Erasmus students as they participate in arranging flat leases. The Best Party Life is only one of several organizations in Istanbul supporting Erasmus students in regard to university affairs, offering parties, organizing trips and taking care of their habitation. 11 managers and 60 to 70 promoters work for BPL. They are in close contact with the universities and their Erasmus offices and coordinators. facebook is at their side, facilitating transnational communication and functioning as a residential agency – even before the international students arrive in Istanbul. 11 German Erasmus offices refer their students to flat sharing homepages as well as the homepage of the partner university 12, whose coordinators and supporting crew are in close contact with the aforementioned student organizations and flat sharing communities. In this way, some Turkish students profit from the Erasmus Programme through renting out flats. It is possible to speak of an informal Erasmus housing-market. As U. from BPL told us, this is not only a source of income, but in also valuable in terms of social capital (Bourdieu) regarding the international circle of friends resulting from this cooperation in accommodation 13.

In consequence, the place of residence is seldom chosen completely freely by the Erasmus students but it rather, to a considerable extent, managed by Turkish students, student organizations and the Erasmus offices as well as their tutors. Consequently, this network of Erasmus actors plays a central role in designing international student districts.

BestPartylife                  Eskibeyrut


  1. 1 Cf. Goffman, Erving: Interaktion im öffentlichen Raum. Frankfurt/New York, NY: Campus 2009, pp. 12-13.
  2. 2 Talk with a former Erasmus student who took part in political activism with other international students.
  3. 3 Interview with M., a student from Berlin, on May 15, 2014. M. spent one year (2010-2011) as an Erasmus student in Istanbul. In 2012, she went back for several months to do an internship there. The quote was translated from German into English.
  4. 4 Interview with M., an Erasmus coordinator at an university in Istanbul on May 30, 2014.
  5. 5 Excerpt from an Erasmus field report: Erasmus-Erfahrungsbericht. Istanbul Sommersemester 2014, (last accessed July 2015)
  6. 6 Cf. Holm, Andrej: “Gentrification”, in: Eckardt, Frank (ed.): Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer 2012, pp. 661-679. See also the definition of gentrification in the same publication.
  7. 7 Cf. Holm, Andrej: “Gentrification”, in: Eckardt, Frank (ed.): Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer 2012, pp. 661-679, here p. 671.
  8. 8 Cf. Holm, Andrej: “Gentrification”, in: Eckardt, Frank (ed.): Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer 2012, pp. 661-679, here pp. 672-673.
  9. 9 Interview with M., a student from Berlin, on May 15, 2014. M. spent one year (2010-2011) as an Erasmus student in Istanbul. In 2012, she went back for several months to do an internship there.
  10. 10 Cf. Holm, Andrej: “Gentrification”, in: Eckardt, Frank (ed.): Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer 2012, pp. 661-679, here p. 667.
  11. 11 Cf. Interview with U. working for The Best Party Life organization on May 27, 2014.
  12. 12 Cf. Interview with S., who works in the Erasmus office of a German university institute on March 16, 2014.
  13. 13 Cf. Interview with U. working for The Best Party Life organization on May 27, 2014.