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Under the clouds of the megapolis

Ulus  Atayurt,  journalist form Istanbul

From “5 Stories for 5 days…Voices from the World Social Fórum Belem, Amazon”, project “Stories of Possible World” www.powos.org , done by the UPMS (Popular University of Social Movements) and UPTER (Popular University of Rome).

I was going back to the hotel after a day in the forum together with a friend known recently, Ulus Atayurt, a journalist from Istanbul. After the hours we passed in different meetings, immersed in the green and in the stories, we were then facing a different forest: metropolitan. And it’s here that, a bit stunned by this contrast, Ulus has told me about what it’s going on in Istanbul. A story about construction’s speculation and rights denied. Later on, at night, he has sent me his writing.

"According to the last general cencus, 51 percent out of 13 million Istanbulites consider themselves as house-owners. But in a paradoxical manner; the metropolitan municipaltiy counts 62 percent of all building stock as 'illegal' or 'informal'; This striking difference is due to some inevitable developments in the housing market of the big city in the last 7 years. Accordingly the parliament issued several highly interconnected laws which enable the municipalities and the Primeministers Housing Company (TOKI) to demolish almost any building that they want to. The aim is clear: To clear big portions of land and make them available for the use of  glocal construction companies. Since all this process is made exempt from any investigaton, TOKI can both transfer the public budget to its proponent firms and emancipate the real-estate bubble. Accordingly; it is not suprising that the destructions have started from minorities and socially weaker groups. The Sulukule gipsies with their cursed way of life and lack of social mobilization was an easy target. So were the forced Kurdish immigrants of Ayazma district with their exhaustion do to the civil war and their potentiality to be labeled as 'the terrorists'. As millions of people live under the thread of evictions; the government is also coming to realize that things are not going to be that easy. And this is not only because small pieces of resistance, ranging from old-ways of all encompassing revolutionary groups to neighborhood foundations gathered around the concept 'right to housing' are raising their voices and getting some positive results, like in the traditionally leftist mega-gecekondu area of Gulsuyu. But the very ideology based on the real-estate speculation is undercutting the commonly accepted hegemony of the ruling conservative-liberal-islamic party AKP.

While AKP is trying to force the victims of evictions to sign long-term mortgage agreements in new mega housing units (which they will surely not be able to pay) even the conservative areas like Basibuyuk are coming to question the politics of the Party. Since their eloctoral victory in 1994, the general strategy of the conservative Islam was to provide the poor areas with aid in kind; that is giving them some basic needs like sugar, rice, coal and in return asking for people's vote. But now the party has to face the dilemma. They will either go on with demolitions and will loose their popular support or will stop the construction madness and will loose their abilty to real-estate based corruption. Either way, they are going to loose on the long term. But the alternatives are not clear yet."       

Ulus Atayurt