Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ali Mezarcıoğlu The State, Roma and Urban Renewal


Urban renewal is an issue which is a particular concern to all citizen living in our country. We will evaluate the issue with its dimensions regarding Roma in this article. Roma living in big metropols like İstanbul, İzmir, Ankara and settlements in Thracia, coastal Aegean, Mediterrenean region, western and central Blacksea region have been influenced by urban renewal projects in last 10-15 years. The urban renewal process will be quickened as far as it's understood from events and important results regarding Roma directly will appear. 


Authorities particularly municipalities have the power to make decisions about urban renewal issue. Frankly, Roma don't have a civil society organization which can influence decisions of the authorities about the issue. Roma society is completely seperated and open to be governed with external directions. Any kind of sedition even smaller ones can play Roma society off against eachother. Unfortunately, Roma society, who doesn't have a power to mold public opinion, won't be able to change decisions about the urban renewal under these circumstances. I, considering these realities, am writing this article to be evaluated by the authorities who have the pover to make decisions about the issue. They maybe won't consider our evaluations. However if the article can make a contribution to the understanding of the results of mistaken decisions about urban renewal, this will be a great success for me. 

Most of the urban renewal project done in last few years have caused Roma settlements to be dispersed. Roma families living together before went to different places which are in some cases in the same city and in some cases in different cities. When Küçükbakkalköy Roma neighbourhood was demolished, Roma families of the settlement went to the other places in İstanbul like Dudullu, Ümraniye, Alemdağ, Sancaktepe, Çamlıca. When Yahya Kemal Neighbourhood in european side of İstanbul was demolished, Roma who lived there before went to different cities like Yalova, Çorlu and to the other districts of İstanbul. When Sulukule was demolished, the residents went to the some other neighbourhoods like Karagümrük, Topkapı or Edirnekapı. It's possible to give many more examples. Anyway, it's clear that many Roma neighbourhoods have been dispersed as a result of urban renewal projects although it's also possible that this result wasn't planned by the project makers.

In the midst of all this, there is a question in my mind. If the authorities accept Roma people, who have a distinct culture and origin clearly different from majority, to live together in their neighbourhoods as a threat against national unity of the country? If they thought that Roma to live together will cause a social tension even not today but in future? No doubt, these ideas have never been stated clearly. So we don't have a chance to know that if these ideas were discussed or not in the beginning of urban renewal progress. On the other hand, it will be usefull to share the different dimensions of the issue with the authorities who possibly have this kind of ideas. 

First of all, why do Roma live together in their own neighbourhoods? Are there a secret seperatist-political aim behind the situation? Of course not! Roma live together because Roma have been obligated to live in that way as a result of at least 1000 years history. We need to understand this history to understand what is happening today. 

1000 years ago, the oldest ancestors of Roma who left India because of a great chaos came to Byzantium Empire. Roma language and Roma culture emerged there as a syntheses. Roma lost any kind of resouces they maybe had before as a result of this hard process. They didn't have agricultural lands, herds or forestal areas. The only possibility to survive was providing various services and producing various craft productions for settled agriculturalists or nomadic herders. Roma, who were subsisting on jobs like basketmaking, sievemaking, tinsmithing, animal training, musicianship, healing, were leaving their winter quarters to go to the places in where their clients live in each summer. This is the economical base of Roma culture. Roma who try to subsist on different subsistence ways have been hindered and in the course of events Roma mostly were not able to have lands or herds. Developing of industry and dissappearing of traditional occupations started a harder period of Roma people. When traditional occupation dissappeared, most of Roma were obligated to subsist on unpreffered jobs with low income like shoe-shining, scrap collecting, portering. All of these incidents imprisoned Roma people to extreme poverty. 

Roma face many limitations about settling since the time of Byzantium Empire. Roma families were only allowed to live in suburbian areas and the ones who move to the central areas were sent back to their former settlements. Being forced of Roma to live seperated from the others is directly related with deep poverty of Roma. The others accepted Roma, who didn't have any lands or herds, as a threat for their richness. On the other hand, relatively darker skin and different culture of Roma whose ancestral land was India was a reason for majority to worry about Roma. Being forced of Roma to live seperated from the others with these fears caused foreignnes between Roma and others to grow and Roma to be poorer. 

This foreignnes which emerged in hundreds of years between Roma and the others is not possible to be dissappeared suddenly. To force societies who have big cultural differences to live togeter can cause social tension. This was the reason why Ottoman Empire used Mahala system which means each ethnic and religional group live in their own mahala with their own tradions. 

Turkey is not a multinational empire like Ottoman. Forcing citizen to live seperated is not suitable with administrative system of the republic. Each Turkish citizen is free to live in every places of the country. On the other hand, to force Roma, who have been forced to live in their own neighbourhood, to live together with other citizens is not logical and can cause serious problems. 

Educated Roma with higher income mostly prefer to move to neighbourhoods in where citizens from different ethnic and religional origins live together. This is not a result of any kind of forcing, this happens naturally. It's possible to say that hundred of thousands Roma live in mixed neighbourhoods today. However, living in Roma neighbourhoods is almost an obligation for Roma with low income; subsisting on jobs like flower selling, musicianship, shoe-shining, paper and scrap collecting. A Roma neighbourhood is not only a place in where Roma culture is being lived but also a place in where even the poorest Roma can survive because of neighbourhood solidarity. Roma live sharing foods, wearings, houses and gardens in Roma neighbourhoods. A Roma neighbourhood is the shelter to where hopeless ones can refuge. Dispersing Roma neighbourhood means to start a process which will be terrible threat not for only hopeless poor people but also for the rest of society. 

Finally, i want to summarize the article specifying objections of dispercing Roma neighbourhoods:

-In last 1000 years, Roma were forced to live seperately from the rest of society. This situation cause a great foreignnes between Roma and the others. This being the case, forcing Roma to live in mixed neighbourhoods can create social conflicts like cases of Manisa Selendi, Afyon Şuhut and Çanakkale Bayramiç(1971).

-Roma neighbourhoods are solidarity centers. Poorest Roma can survive in the neighbourhoods in cooperation and solidarity with the residests even they have no income. Dispersing these neighbourhoods will make poorest Roma hopeless. 

-Poorest Roma will be more open to be instrumentalized by crime organizations when their neighbourhood were dispersed. Roma who are deprived of neighbourhood solidarity will be seen as sitter ducks by crime organizations. 

-Roma, whose neighbourhoods are dispersed, are losing their sources of income and this cause Roma families to be seperated. Children of seperated families are much more open to drug addiction. This children will start gangs in streets and become source of worry for all of the society. 

It's possible to stop this progress. If in-situ transformation is preferred instead of dispersing Roma neighbourhoods, there will be no problem. Houses in Roma neighbourhoods can repaired according wishes of residents. We hope authorities to consider these realities when they plan new urban renewal projects regarding Roma people whose population is more 2 million in Turkey. Otherwise terrible results will emerge and next generations will pay for the mistakes of urban renewall. 

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