Turkey – The Case Study of Kumkapi

Derya Ozkul

This short photo essay displays the streets where we conducted our fieldwork in Turkey. Recently Turkey has gone through a series of changes that constitute a neoliberal transformation: the developments in the economy, the rise in the urban middle class and the absence of welfare provisions are among the factors that have required the arrival of international migrants. The first two pictures show the rapid urban transformation of a district called Tarlabasi where most migrants are forced to leave their houses. Many tenants are evicted so that the buildings can be sold to investors at higher prices.

The next six pictures show the daily life of people from various nationalities in Kumkapi. And the last picture shows a part of the room of the Vice-President of Fatih Municipality, the local jurisdiction that Kumkapi belongs to. With its late night bars, restaurants and hotels, today Kumkapi is a site of attraction to many tourists. The majority of the travel blogs describe Kumkapi as a site of ‘amazing Turkish hospitality’ and depict the area as ‘colourful streets’ of Istanbul. Our research has shown that the cosmopolitanism at-first-sight in Kumkapi is not a peaceful one, but it is composed of layers of silent violence between various ethnic and religious groups.

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One of the evacuated buildings in Tarlabasi

Tarlabasi has hosted internal migrants and international migrants from various countries. Last year, the area has undergone an enormous urban transformation project, pushing the inhabitants away from the area to more distant suburbs in order to renew the buildings and increase their market value.

An advertisement in Tarlabasi

Renewal projects are still going on in many neighbourhoods and are expected to increase with the new legislation (‘No. 6306 Law Regarding the Transformation of Places under a Disaster Threat’, the so-called ‘Urban Transformation Law’). Urban transformation projects emerged under the neoliberal restructuring of the city.

A street in Kumkapi

Kumkapi in Fatih, Istanbul has been exposed to various layers of migration. In the first decades of the Turkish Republic, Kumkapi hosted Armenians and Greeks. The 1960s saw the arrival of internal migrants from the Black sea region, and the 1980s and 90s witnessed the arrival of the internally displaced Kurdish people. Since the 1990s international migrants from a growing number of countries started to settle in Kumkapi.

An advertisement on a wall of one of the streets in Kumkapi (in Turkish: Furnished room to rent to a foreigner from the owner)

The local inhabitants accuse international migrants of increasing their rents. Many rooms are now priced in dollars, and cost as twice as the normal price. According to a real estate agency owner we interviewed, foreigners are given much older and dirtier rooms that are 100 dollars more expensive than the rental prices offered to local inhabitants.

A street in Kumkapi

There are increasingly more Africans arriving in Kumkapi. The picture shows one of the commercial laundries. Because migrants generally do not know the exact period of their stay, they don’t invest in buying durable goods, such as washing machines. Hence they use them in these shops. Migrants are usually young men, but there are also women and children.

A street connecting Kumkapi to Laleli

The 1990s experienced the collapse of communism in the Northern neighbours of Turkey. The majority of the post-Soviet countries soon suffered from high levels of unemployment due to the ‘shock therapy’ economic reforms that they were subject to. Turkey’s relatively liberal visa regime then allowed their citizens to migrate and look for jobs in Turkey. As such, the 1990s witnessed the arrival of foreigners from the post-Soviet countries to work in the growing textile, automotive, domestic work and entertainment sectors in Turkey. The picture captures female migrants from these countries and a local young man carrying textile goods.

A street in Kumkapi

Streets connecting Kumkapi to Laleli is full of textile and cargo shops. These shops aim to attract entrepreneurs from the post-Soviet countries. Therefore, the majority of the sign texts are in Russian. Shops also employ migrants (usually women) as translators from/to Russian to Turkish.

A street connecting Kumkapi to Laleli

The picture shows one of the packets of textile goods. Textile items are transported as carry-ons, but generally their magnitude exceeds the limits. In time, there emerged a triangular illegal trade system between the workers of transportation companies in Turkey, the custom officials and the recipients in destination countries that secured the safe transport of the goods. The pattern soon emerged as such: Textile buyers from the post-Soviet countries would come and choose the goods, arrange a transportation company or work with the one that was already agreed upon before departure to Turkey and receive the goods in the destination country.

Stephen Castles (University of Sydney) and Hasan Suver (Fatih Municipality)

When we asked to take a picture with him, the Vice-President of the Fatih Municipality wanted to be in front of this map on his wall showing the territorial expansion of the Ottoman Empire. In his interview, he reminded us of the tolerant multiculturalism pertinent to the Ottoman times. Turkey has increasingly advertised its Ottoman legacy, particularly in reference to its foreign policy and regional presence. Our research has shown that Turkey’s liberalised visa regime, direct involvement with its neighbours and other countries will likely to result in more migration flows.


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