Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Squatter riots, then a solution

These three stories from the Agence France Presse news agency date back to October-November 2004. I missed them at the time, but they seem revelatory now.

They show how Turkish squatters defend their turf, even battling with police to save their homes. The fact that the demolitions were halted, and the Mayor made a deal to save the squatter neighborhood demonstrates the power that organized groups of squatters can wield over local politicans. In a country where 38 percent of the housing is squatter-built, politicians had better pay attention. Prime Minister Erdogan's plan to battle the gecekondu neighborhoods sounds ill-conceived. It would be far better (not to mention more cost effective) to work with squatters to better their communities.

Police, residents face off at Istanbul squatter area
28 October 2004
Agence France Presse
ISTANBUL, Oct 28 (AFP) -

After manning burning barricades all night, about 1,000 residents of an Istanbul squatter area protesting against the demolition of their homes were engaged in a tense stand-off Thursday with security forces outside the suburban Pendik city hall, an AFP photographer saw.

After repeated clashes Wednesday with police trying to protect municipal demolition teams as they razed 14 houses built illegally on state-owned land, residents of the area on the Asian side of Istanbul stayed up all night, erecting barricades of upended utility poles, garbage cans and burning tires.

They hurled sticks, stones and bottles at armored police vehicles that powered through the barricades, which they rebuilt as soon as the security forces left, reporters at the scene said.

Paramilitary gendarmerie units were called in overnight and cordoned off the area, an AFP photographer at the scene said, but let through a peaceful procession of about 1,000 people, including women and children, who marched on the local city hall to demand an end to the demolition.

A tense stand-off ensued when police blocked their path but an arrangement was reached allowing a delegation of 20 representatives of the Ertugrulgazi neighborhood to proceed into the municipal building for talks with Mayor Erol Kaya, which were still continuing after more than two and a half hours.

In Wednesday's clashes, neighborhood youths -- many said to be militants of a left-wing extremist group -- fought pitched battles with police, who responded with tear gas and baton charges and arrested four people.

Scores were hurt on both sides, press reports said, but none seriously.

Television crews and press photographers also came under attack from the demonstrators and several news teams at the scene Thursday reported that they were assailed by stick-wielding youths.

Uncontrolled urbanization and a steady population flow from the countryside to urban areas has resulted in entire neighborhoods of illegally built homes mushrooming in and around Turkey's major cities.

Known as "gecekondu" (built by night, in Turkish) areas, they generally house people of rural origin who eke out a living in the city, often at menial jobs.

Some of the neighborhoods are razed while others manage to negotiate deals with local governments to ensure their survival and profit from occasional amnesties to flourish and grow into entire suburbs with their own schools and businesses.


***
Deal defuses tense stand-off between Istanbul police, squatters

28 October 2004
Agence France Presse
ISTANBUL, Oct 28 (AFP) -

A potentially explosive stand-off between security forces and the inhabitants of an Istanbul squatter area was defused Thursday when city authorities and residents reached an agreement after nearly three hours of talks, officials said.

The deal came after more than 24 hours of clashes between police and dwellers of the Ertugrulgazi neighborhood in suburban Pendik, on the Asian shore of this city of 12 million, who were protesting against the demolition of their homes, which were built illegally on state-owned hand.

"There will be no more demolition in Ertugrulgazi," Pendik Mayor Erol Kaya said after meeting representatives of the residents who manned burning barricades all night and pelted police vehicles with sticks, stones and bottles.

The violence overnight and Thursday morning followed pitched battles Wednesday between neighborhood youths and police trying to protect the municipal demolition teams that bulldozed 14 houses.

The residents stayed up all night, erecting barricades of upended utility poles, garbage cans and burning tires and hurling projectiles at armored police vehicles that powered through barricades that were rebuilt as soon as the security forces left, reporters at the scene said.

Paramilitary gendarmerie units were called in overnight and cordoned off the area, an AFP photographer at the scene said, but let through a peaceful procession of about 1,000 people, including women and children, who marched on the local city hall to demand an end to the demolition.

A tense stand-off ensued when police blocked their path but an arrangement was reached allowing a delegation of 20 neighborhood representatives to proceed into the building for talks with Kaya and Pendik's acting sub-governor, Fahri Keser.

"We have dispelled rumors that the entire neighborhood will be razed," Kaya told reporters, explaining that the houses knocked down on Wednesday had been built on land earmarked for a public school.

The families who were left homeless will be housed in new lodgings to be erected jointly by the residents, the municipality and the Pendik sub-governorate, Kaya said.

The deal was greeted with cheers and applause by the waiting crowd, which dispersed peacefully, and residents could later be seen clearing the barricades.

In Wednesday's clashes, neighborhood youths -- many said to be militants of a left-wing extremist group -- fought with police, who responded with tear gas and baton charges and arrested four people.

Scores were hurt on both sides, press reports said, but none seriously.

Television crews and press photographers also came under attack from the demonstrators and several news teams at the scene Thursday reported that they were assailed by stick-wielding youths.

Uncontrolled urbanization and a steady population flow from the countryside to urban areas has resulted in entire neighborhoods of illegally built homes mushrooming in and around Turkey's major cities.

Known as "gecekondu" (built by night, in Turkish) areas, they generally house people of rural origin who eke out a living in the city, often at menial jobs.

Some of the neighborhoods are razed while others manage to negotiate deals with local governments to ensure their survival and profit from occasional amnesties to flourish and grow into entire suburbs with their own schools and businesses.


***
Turkish PM faces big housing challenge
01 November 2004
Agence France Presse
ANKARA, Nov 1 (AFP) -

Violent clashes between police and residents of an Istanbul squatter area protesting last week against the demolition of their homes have revived a debate over the state of housing in Turkey, which the government has vowed to improve.

The clashes, in the neighbourhood of Ertugrulgazi in suburban Pendik, on the Asian shore of the city of 12 million, came as police tried to protect municipal demolition teams as they razed 14 houses -- so-called "gecekondu" (built by night, in Turkish) -- built illegally on state-owned land.

The Turkish government led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is waging war against the "gecekondu", which generally house people of rural origin who eke out a living in the city, often in menial jobs. The houses are built without any respect for hygiene and security standards.

The evacuations regularly cause clashes between police and tenants, although rarely on the scale of those last week which involved pitched battles.

The houses are the result of uncontrolled urbanization and a steady population flow from the countryside to urban areas has resulted in entire neighborhoods of illegally built homes mushrooming in and around Turkey's major cities.

The wild urbanisation was tolerated by successive governments which, for political ends, gave the inhabitants amnesties, usually in the run-up to elections, allowing them to stay and letting people who built the houses off the hook.

Under Erdogan's plans some of the neighborhoods are razed while others manage to negotiate deals with local governments to ensure their survival and profit from occasional amnesties to flourish and grow into entire suburbs with their own schools and businesses.

A lucrative underground housing market has sprung up, rushing up houses to meet the demand.

Although the potentially explosive stand-off between security forces and the inhabitants of an Istanbul squatter area was defused on Thursday when city authorities and residents reached an agreement after nearly three hours of talks, Prime Minister Erdogan faces a long-haul addressing a problem papered over by successive governments.

A small shop owner living in his premises jammed between two "gecekondu" in the area of Altindag in Ankara, was laconic when asked about the lives of people living in the neighbourhood.

"Our children go to school. We all have running water and electricity either legally or not, but it's ok...This is not really a gecekondu. We have been here for generations. It is an old neighbourhood, that's all" the 50-year-old man said.

For both electoral reasons and with a view to meeting the standards of the European Union, which Turkey badly wants to join, Erdogan's government recently attacked the issue, voting through a law which introduced penalties of up to five years jail for those who build the illegal houses.

Some 38 percent of Turkish houses are said to be built without authorisation.

So a massive task remains ahead building social housing to house those thrown out of their illicit homes, in a country in which 10 million of the 70 million population live below the poverty line.

The government has announced that it will build hundreds of thousands of social houses over the next few years for the most needy families, with the help of long-term credits.

It has also made clear it is opposed to the construction of new "gecekondu", ruling out a new amnesty.

1 comment:

daniel said...

I lived in Istanbul from 94-99. I remember one day in about 1995, a gecekondu 5-story apartment building (across a valley from my school) started to get demolished by a wrecking ball. The 30-odd residents protested, police were called, and one woman even set herself on fire. The demolition was halted, with one storey wrecked but the rest intact.

(good blog, by the way, and I haven't read your book yet, though I plan to)