In this present discussion, I am concerned with the recent demolition and devastation of Sulukule, a predominantly Roma district located in the historical peninsula (Sultanahmet) of Istanbul. In order to address key issues, I think that it is necessary to explore the wider cultural setting and resonances of this aggressive action of urban–global “upgrading” in the city. The contemporary, general logic of metropolitan globalization should be situated in the specific and distinctive context of Istanbul's evolving urban identity. There are three principal objectives. The first is to describe the process by which Istanbul's Faith local municipality initiated a program of radical “urban renewal” in the cause of gentrification in the historic, central zone of the city. The second objective is to situate the developments in Sulukule in the context of the longer-term cultural imaginaire through which the city's historical trajectory has come to be conceived (as elaborated preeminently in the literary texts of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar and, subsequently, Orhan Pamuk). Third, I explore the new conceptual and ideological frame that is now coming to be mobilized to serve as a rationale for the reinvention, in the name of urban modernization, of Istanbul's cultural heritage, sense of identity, and logic of purpose. Much can be learned about the contemporary transformation of Istanbul through the prism of the recent, hard Roma experience.
How Tell What Remains: Sulukule Nevermore
KEVIN ROBINS IS A VISITING FELLOW AT GOLDSMITHS COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, AND LIVES IN ISTANBUL. HE HAS RECENTLY BEEN WORKING ON A PROJECT AT GOLDSMITHS ON EUROPEAN MEDIA POLICY, AND HAS ALSO BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE ON CULTURAL POLICY IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS REGION.