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.

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 was further reflecting on the situation of Syrian refugees in Istanbul, I wanted to see Ismail again, whom I had first gotten in touch with on May, 1 2014 in Edirne. We had met in one of the city’s hotels in the evening after the big 1 May demonstration that had taken place in the city center. During our first conversation, Ismail told me that he had already tried to reach both Greece and Bulgaria with his family a couple of times. In Greece, the border police pushed them back 1. The family could not enter Bulgaria because the Border Police was in position on Turkish territory, blocking the way. For many years, Ismail had been a wholesale trader in Germany. During that time, he had a visa for Germany, where he often moved from place to place. He escaped the war in Syria and got stuck in Turkey after he and his family had had to leave Egypt, where they had lived for a while. In a near-perfect German, he told me:

“What really bothers me is that I was in Germany and I know Europe very well and I cannot enter. Why, because I have a family. With a family, it is hard to enter. If I would have been alone, I would have made it a long time ago. And I don’t need help, I go alone. […] But because of my family, I cannot. I have to, somehow, watch out for my family. I have my children in a Syrian school in Istanbul and I wait until the school is finished and then I will travel on to Germany, if I can.” 2

But as Ismail failed to cross the border a third time, the family did not see any chance in Edirne and decided to go back to Istanbul. I met Ismail once more in Aksaray 3 in the end of May 2014. He told me on the phone that we would meet each other at the underground station next to a parked police car. He was accompanied by his son. We hugged and looked for a coffee bar.

After a little while, he started telling us how he had been doing since we last met. He spoke about how hard life was for the family in the Global City and that he was constantly running out of money. Ismail applied for the Humanitarian Admission Program (HAP) 4 in Germany like thousands of Syrian refugees. He did not know about the progress of his application. He told me that he planned to send his child to Germany alone because he hoped this strategy would allow the whole family to follow. “I will try it at the border again,” he told me.

Some months later, I chatted with Ismail once more. He told me that he was planning to sell one of his kidneys because the family had no money left. “I am an old man already“, Ismail wrote in a short message. He had had to spend a lot of money due to several hospital stays of his wife and one of his children. Ismail’s new ‘idea’, to be quite honest, made me sad and depressed. He sounded more and more depressed himself when I spoke to him through social media. Finally, in the beginning of February 2015, Ismail arrived in Germany with one son. After crossing several EU-countries, they applied for asylum in Germany. They are currently awaiting a decision on their status.


  1. 1 More information about Push-Backs from Greece to Turkey can be found in the report by the human rights organization Pro Asyl: Pushed Back. Systematic human rights violations against refugees in the aegean sea and at the greek-turkish land border, November 7, 2013, (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 Talk with Ismail in Edirne on May 1, 2014.
  3. 3 For further information about Aksaray see the multimedia project Der Zaun by Dietmar Telser, Benjamin Stoess and Thorsten Schneiders (December 2014, updated April 2015), (last accessed July 2015).
  4. 4 Bundesministerium des Inneren, Humanitäre Aufnahmeprogramme des Bundes, December 12, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).

Kumkapı is a place that already has a migrant history 1Many people that have migrated live and work there. Suitcase or bag sellers as well as many textile shops are very visible in the streetscape. The whole area was full of shopping tourists looking for cheap offers. As one becomes aware of in Kumkapı, not every refugee or migrant has the chance to go to the European Union or be resettled. No small number of them decides to stay in Istanbul instead of going back to their country of origin.

The reasons for people not being able cross the borders to the European Union are manifold. In 2013, fences of 10 and 30 kilometers length were erected along the borders to Greece and Bulgaria. In 2014, Push-Back case numbers inclined 2. Turkey and Bulgaria signed a readmission-agreement on sending migrants back to Turkey 3, an agreement with the European Union had already been signed in 2012 4. Additionally, it is much harder to make a living as a refugee or a migrant in many European countries due to the economic crisis. 5 In the context of the European border and migration regime, Turkey and the UNHCR  take on major roles as instruments of migration control, externalizing and managing the migration flow to the European Union 6.

Many migrants in Turkey know about the difficult situation in some European countries. In our talk, François summarized:

“And then there is this factor also with Greece, ah being or having some economical problems also many people they don’t want to go. […] Because they say: Oh, we go to Greece anyway, we fall into the same problem, we don’t get work, we don’t get money, so its better we stay here in Turkey.”

Currently, there are 16 “Removal Centers“ in Turkey 7. We wanted to visit the Kumkapı Detention Center and find out to what extent the so called “refugee crisis” is affecting this institution. After a while, we found the building which was until recently officially called “Foreigners Guesthouse” (Yabancılar Misafirhanesi).

People could be seen standing at the windows. Walking to the front of the jail, we asked police officers whether we could talk to somebody inside the police station. After our letter of accreditation had been examined, we were led to the head of the Detention Center who referred us to one female and one male police officer. With them, we talked a lot about the daily routines in the building. According these two young officers, the building was constantly crowded. 400 people were inside the group cells with about 30 people coming and going every day. This fact illustrates Istanbul’s position at the intersection of and its function as a hub of different migration routes. A psychologist we spoke to at the center told us that due to the pressure from the European Union, he himself as well as female colleagues were installed in the Detention Center. When discussing “Turkey’s gatekeeper function“ for Europe, we were told that Turkey probably has no interest in being the ‘good gatekeeper’ anymore. Many of the refugees and migrant workers in the jail facing deportation were coming from eastern or former Soviet countries.


  1. 1 See as well the article of Kristen Biehl: Exploring migration, diversification and urban transformation in contemporary Istanbul – the case of Kumkapi. (2014), MMG Working Paper 14-11, (last accessed July 2015). 
  2. 2 For information on Push-Backs from Bulgaria to Turkey see the following reports: reports: Amnesty International: The True Cost of Fortress Europe. Human Rights Violations Against Migrants and Refugees at Europe’s Borders (2014), (last accessed July 2015); Human Rights Watch: Containment Plan. Bulgaria’s Pushbacks and Detention of Syrian and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants (2014), (last accessed July 2015); Hristova, Tsvetelina/Apostolova, Raia/Deneva, Neda/Fiedler, Mathias: Trapped in Europe’s Quagmire: The Situation of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Bulgaria, (2014), (last accessed July 2015).
  3. 3 Cf. EU-Turkey readmission agreement benefits Bulgaria, BNR. Radio Bulgaria May 3, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  4. 4 Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network: An EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement – Undermining the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers?, p. 2,és%20des%20institutions%20européennes/En_TurkeyReadmis_Pb_web.pdf (last accessed July 2015).
  5. 5 For further information, see Gerda Heck’s interesting article on the integration of sub-Saharan migrants in Istanbul: “Ankommen, ohne bleiben zu wollen. Zu Lebensbedingungen und Alltagsstrategien kongolesischer Migrant_innen in der Türkei“, in: Heimeshoff, Lisa-Marie (eds.): Grenzregime II – Migration – Kontrolle – Wissen. Transnationale Perspektiven, Berlin: Assoziation A 2014; p. 98-111.
  6. 6 Ratfisch, Philipp/Scheel, Stephan: „Die Rolle des UNHCR bei der Externalisierung des EU-Migrationsregimes“, in: Hess, Sabine/ Kasparek, Bernd (eds.): Grenzregime – Diskurse, Praktiken, Institutionen in Europa, Berlin: Assoziation A 2010, p. 89-110, here p. 96.
  7. 7 Grange, Mariette/ Flynn, Michael: Immigration Detention in Turkey, Global Detention Project April 2014, (last accessed July 2015).

All in all, it seems like Syrian refugees in Turkey, alike other migrants and refugees, have to be highly flexible 1. As stated in an Amnesty International report published in 2014, refugees in Istanbul and other parts of the country have to work for low wages 2. In Istanbul, not one of the Syrian refugees I met had stayed in the same place for more than 3 months. They were constantly moving in search for a way to earn a living. At times, it was very difficult to use the contacts I had received from people helping me with my research because the person had already moved outside of Turkey, or at least outside of Istanbul. Others returned to Istanbul to find work or a possibility to somehow get into Europe.

As construction sites in Istanbul are booming, a lot of cheap labor is needed. Many areas are gentrified and changed, often due to the fact that people are working for such low wages. In the construction projects of big companies or the textile sector, the exploitation of the ‘human capital’ is not likely to end anytime soon. Syrian Refugees are working in clothing factories, the farming sector or restaurants, often illegally 3. A lot of poor Turkish people already work for cheap wages and, of course, the refugees and migrants – having nothing left to give except the ‘commodity’ of their manpower.

The Global City Istanbul is pulsing and it seems that it will tremendously extend its capitalistic economical reach. One can say that even with the statutory minimum wage guaranteed by the state, there is a highly unregulated labor market supported by an enormous ‘reserve army of labor’ 4 fueled by poor people trying to maintain their existence. Those who are neither needed nor wanted are pushed back by society’s racism and classism or – eventually – leave the city or the country voluntarily.


  1. 1 For working opportunities of Syrian refugees, see the study of Kirişci, Kemal: Syrian refugees and Turkey’s challenges: Going beyond hospitality, Washington/D.C.: Brookings Institution 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 Amnesty International: Struggling to survive: Refugees from Syria in Turkey (2014), p. 25-27, (last accessed July 2015).
  3. 3 Özden Şenay: Syrian Refugees in Turkey, MPC Research Report May 2013, (last accessed July 2015).
  4. 4 This Marxian concept was first articulated in Marx, Karl: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, German: Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Berlin: Franz Duncker 1859.

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

Some districts of Istanbul like Beyoğlu are considered to be safe for lesbians, gays, bi- and transsexuals and shaped by the queer scene. In recent years, Istanbul has experienced a boom of gay bars and pubs, clubs and hostels. It is conceived as a metropolis with a flourishing and vibrant urban gay scene – also by tourists.

As part of the tourism business of the city, a gay travel agency is specializing in queer visitors. The employees of the agency as well as their tour guides are either homosexual or “gay friendly”. The offered touristic services vary from night tours of the local nightlife’s hot spots to day tours of the city and wider urban sphere as well as trips to different cities lasting several days. During the tours, the customers are acquainted with facts regarding the city of Istanbul and its history as well as an LGBTIQ* perspective on aspects of everyday life.

A closer inspection of on the digital offers provides information about the demands, needs and expectations of tourists regarding Istanbul as a destination. Hamam, Oriental Night, Bazar and Hagia Sofia – these locations within the urban space are the advertised as highlights the agency offers. These are also the offers experiencing highest customer demand. This illustrates that an Oriental image of the city is part of the tourists’ imaginations – they expect it and strive to fulfill it through their urban route. Touristic offers consist even of Orientalized places like a traditional Hamam, the Grand Bazar or the Blue Mosque.

Tourism Studies within the Cultural Sciences point out that the search for authenticity of, in this case, a city is what drives tourists. 1 Since the beginnings of commercial tourism, one of the traditional motivations to travel is the search for authenticity. Thus, the tourist becomes a symbol for the modern individual searching for the original. 2 No only spatial demands by tourists, but also on their questions about homosexual life in Turkey, which the gay tours are all about, can be seen in this context. Using gay tourist services serves as a practice of distinction as it constitutes a special and “authentic” arrangement of entertainment and knowledge – even though the “genuine” and authentic itself, as Ning Wang states, is a construction. 3 This travel motivation turns the tourist to a traveler. Within these mechanisms of distinction, the gay tourists distinguish themselves from conventional tourists and their travel routes within Istanbul.

During our field research, we had the opportunity to visit the only gay travel agency in Turkey. There, we met the lesbian agency owner for an interview allowing us to gain insight into the economic aspects of this sector of customer service. During the conversation, the owner reported that she only works with Western customers. In the initial phase of the company’s operation, cooperation with Turkish enterprises like hotels had been very difficult. When asked for collaborations, the CEO reported, people expressed their unwillingness to serve “that way of customers“ and declined inquiries with phrases such as “No, you are pervert and you bring more perverts to Turkey.”

With increasing numbers of customers and the resultant increase in economic potency, cooperation became easier. Tour operators, restaurants and hotels expressed more liberal positions towards the clientele connected to a million dollar business: “At the moment it’s good because they are more polite. They are okay, who cares? Gays or straight? Tourist, tourist – customer, customer!” This is how D. analyzed the current situation.

But within the Turkish service industry, the company plays a dual role. For example, the agency’s website is inaccessible for Turkish people. In locking the site, government agencies and public actors prevent people from within Turkey from gathering information on queer services, locations and contacting the agency. In seemingly diametrical opposition to the attitude demonstrated through censorship, the Culture and Tourism Ministry aspired to use the agency to create the image of a cosmopolitan, liberal city for Istanbul. A few years ago, the owner told us, the Minister of Culture and Tourism at the time asked her to present her company at a trade show in Barcelona to promote a gay agency in Western Europe. In this conversation, he pointed out that this type of advertising is important for the Turkish government as the existence of such an agency contributes to a liberal and open minded image of the county.

The Tourism-Minister called me and said ‘we have an exhibition in Barcelona and we want you to be there. This is very important for our government. As a Gay Travel-Agent, be there, please!’ They wanna show to Europe and the other world ‘we have a Gay Travel-Agent which is openly and freely, they can work in our country!’

At present, the agency’s homepage is still blocked.

Another example of economically driven open mindedness in the treatment and perception of homosexual clients is the sector of cruise tourism. Since the Arab Spring changed the political situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, several gay cruises redirected their routes and call at Istanbul as part of their tours. While many were initially hostile towards this development, the situation changed and passengers were increasingly seen as welcome guests after the huge profits to be made with the accommodation of cruise ships had become apparent. Presently, a hundred Gaycruise cruise ships berth in Istanbul every year. “And then they think ‘a million dollars, hm, who cares if they are gay? A million dollars are more important’”, D. summarized the changes in opinion.

The agency owner also placed the social acceptance of Turkish homosexuals in the context of economic and neoliberal factors: “I have no problem because of being gay. I’m in a very good situation. This is luxury.”

In conclusion, the people in tourist-oriented industries and locations tend to be more open towards LGBTIQ* due to their knowledge that a more open attitude is necessary to profit from this clientele: „Because people are working in the tourism business and they know that they have to be open minded.“ Here, the economic coaction of tourists and players of the service sector evokes a cultural dynamic. The adaption of an expected open minded attitude towards queer customers is connected to an assumed change of society. In this manner, the touristic encounter becomes a performance framework for new patterns of activity.

“They are liberal but only because of the tourism business. Not because the people are open minded. Because the people are working in the tourism business and they know that they have to be open minded.” (CEO D.)

Yet, financial capital is generally a significant factor regarding the opportunity of living a free life for Turkish LGBTIQ*. Status and social acceptance are connected to the economic position of homosexuals. “Money is the most important thing. With money you can have your freedom.”


  1. 1 MacCannell p. 214
  2. 2 MacCannell
  3. 3 Ning Wang

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”.

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 Erasmus Programme existing since 1987 constitutes one of the most popular exchange programmes supported by the European Union. Since its creation, over two million students have participated in the Erasmus Programme and went abroad. So far, around 3.000 institutions from 33 European countries have taken part in the programme 1. On the one hand, the programme provides students with better opportunities for going abroad, but on the other hand, universities are confronted with manifold administrative hurdles as they have to coordinate with universities from other countries. Nevertheless, many students enjoy the collective or unique experience including the cultural exchange with other Erasmus participants. 2

Therefore, not only universities follow the ongoing process of internationalization 3. Students have since realized the potential of and the need for international experiences for successful careers – and they value the possibility of having fun and spending a good time with other young people from places all over the world. Turkey especially has become very attractive for a short-time stay of six to twelve months. In 2012, around 6.000 students took the chance to visit Turkey through Erasmus 4. Also, Istanbul seems to become increasingly attractive to students: “Every year, we get more and more Erasmus incoming students […]” said M., an Erasmus coordinator of an Istanbul university 5.

Is The Erasmus Programme Contributing to the Global City Image? 

The Erasmus Programme can be analyzed with regard to image benefits not only for the universities but also for the city (government). The increasing number of Erasmus students in Turkey is certainly linked to the universities’ aspirations to international reputation. Different strategies and instruments of city policies such as support programmes, monument protection laws and housing legislation have already been analyzed in urban studies with regard to gentrification processes 6. Our research posed the question if the specific support programme Erasmus might be connected to the city government’s attempts at creating Western, cosmopolitan, international and democratic flair. Erasmus could then be situated within the wider context of neo-liberalism and the global city concept.


  1. 1 Cf. Wuttig, Siegbert: “Vorwort“, in: DAAD Euroletter. Informationen zur EU-Bildungs- und Hochschulzusammenarbeit, August 2012, (last accessed July 2015).
  2. 2 Cf. Tekin, Uğur: “Auswirkungen des ERASMUS-Programms auf Universitäten und Studierende in der Türkei“, in: Pusch, Barbara (ed.): Transnationale Migration am Beispiel Deutschland und Türkei, Wiesbaden: Springer 2013, pp. 279-290, here p. 279.
  3. 3 Cf. Tekin, Uğur: “Auswirkungen des ERASMUS-Programms auf Universitäten und Studierende in der Türkei“, in: Pusch, Barbara (ed.): Transnationale Migration am Beispiel Deutschland und Türkei, Wiesbaden: Springer 2013, pp. 279-290, here p. 280.
  4. 4 Cf. Acker, Samuel: “Die Brücke nach Europa wackelt“, in: Zeit Online, March 18, 2014, (last accessed July 2015).
  5. 5 Interview with M., an Erasmus coordinator of an Istanbul university (May 30, 2014).
  6. 6 Cf. Holm, Andrej: “Gentrification”, in: Eckardt, Frank (ed.): Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer 2012, pp. 661-679, here p. 670. Holm names Loretta Lees as an example for this kind of approach in urban research.

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.