Have you ever been afraid of the police suddenly kicking you out of your house? Or been terrified that your government will leave you homeless and in debt, in order to renovate your area into an abundance of skyscrapers? This is a common worry of Turkish people living in poverty, making them easy targets for government supported yet illegal housing plans. However, recently, the rich population in Turkey has also been affected by these illegal plans, showing that no one is safe in their own home.
The escalating economic crisis in Turkey has left many business owners and government associates looking for new opportunities to earn money – even if these actions are illegal. As a result, the government has recognized the issue and has decided to address it by legally allowing their corporate allies to build new houses on green spaces and demolish occupied properties. Such a solution is seen as fitting to raise government officials’ income, as many foreigners are able to acquire Turkish citizenship just by buying property within Turkey, increasing the demand for luxury housing. Despite the government’s duty to protect their citizens and let them practice their rights, the Turkish government has done the opposite by allowing such corporations to destroy lands and forcefully evacuate people from their homes.
Human Rights Violation Masked Under Urban Transformation
Urban transformation (kentsel dönüşüm) is the process of renovating a neighborhood that is poor or has high crime rates into a modern area. It is a type of land development meant to prevent severe damages caused by earthquakes through demolishing unsafe buildings (gecekondu). Although this appears to be a positive change, the illegal methods used to “improve society” are a decoy for profit by establishing higher class housing. Many residents of these houses possess a certificate of ownership for the land and buildings, proving that this government has previously legalized the construction of such dangerous houses and their ownership of these properties. Now the government views these people as squatters. Thus, giving the police the right to forcefully evacuate many houses where families have been living in for over a decade.
The Okmeydani (Fetihtepe) Case (2021)
A prime example of this scheme’s abuses are the residents of Fetihtepe (Istanbul), who were forced to evacuate their houses due to urban transformation. For the time being, the government has assisted with their rent by giving them 1950 TL – which is nowhere near enough money to rent a proper house in Istanbul. Meanwhile, the Kuzu family, which owns the government-allied company renewing the area, was paid 740 million TL. Clearly displaying that the government is not concerned about the safety of the residents, but about the profit that they will be making through the circulation of money among their allies.
We want change through consent, not force.
In fact, it was later revealed that the urban transformation plan did not exist when the company tried to make residents sign the contract. They were making false promises about creating a safe environment for the residents so that the company could construct highly-profitable houses. The government’s ally company revealed that the worth of their lands and houses are essentially free, but still asked residents to release all rights to their lands. Meaning that the habitants would not be able to move back to the area without incurring massive amounts of debt. And with no concrete plan, the residents of the area had no idea how many houses they were going to build or how many green areas they would destroy.
In the end, the residents of Okmeydani had no choice but to hand over their homes as their constitutional rights were seized, their electricity being cut to allow urban transformation to take place. These residents rightfully tried to prevent the government from violating their human rights by peaceful protests. The following messages were used during the protest, and are visible in the photo above (left to right): “we want a change where ownership shares are taken as basis”; “we do not want to be indebted until our last breath”; “we do not want debts we cannot pay”; “the urban transformation should not be made for unearned income but for the society”; “we want change through consent, not by force”.
The Tozkoparan (Güngören) Tragedy (2022
On October 14th, large numbers of armed police entered an apartment building and forcefully evacuated the residents by breaking down all apartment doors and dragging people out into the cold. The police barricaded the Tozkoparan area (Istanbul) so that residents would not be able to re-enter their houses or their neighborhood until the urban transformation was over. Residents who insisted on staying in their houses were attacked by the police and taken into custody. Although this action is against Turkish constitution and human rights, the illegal urban transformation in Güngören continues to take place.
The distrust in the government was apparent, as even before the police arrived, the residents were guarding their apartment buildings outside to protect their homes after getting notified that the police would show up for the demolition. However, the brutal violence exerted on the innocent was horrific to everyone. Several Turkish citizens protested against this event, and it received many negative reactions, but the government continues to prioritize their income.
Destruction of Another Green Space – The Kemer Country Golf Course (2022)
Upper class citizens of Turkey thought that their rich neighborhoods were protected against the illegal activities that had up until this point only affected the lower class citizens. However, they were extremely wrong. Kemer Country Club is a luxurious living space that has a golf course supported by the Demirören Group. The government-allied conglomerate group used this golf course as a credit assurance while getting credit from the state-owned Ziraat Bank, which is usually illegal. After the Demirören Group was not able to pay off their debts, the ministry of environment and urbanization transferred the ownership of the golf course to Ziraat Bank. So, to collect Demirören Group’s debt, the bank decided to build houses on the golf course. And shockingly, this housing project was given to Emlak Konut GYO, which is owned by TOKI, which is owned by the Turkish government.
It is time for a different type of change.
Currently there are about 4000 residents in this large green area, where the golf course is about 300,000 square meters. However, the government has allowed the construction of several more villas and 8-story apartments that would increase Kemer Country’s population by about 3000 people. Not only will an important chunk of a large green area be destroyed, but the qualities of the neighborhood, which many Kemer Country residents specifically chose, will be illegally taken away from them.
A few days ago, the police and bulldozers took over the golf course and began to lay the foundation for the new housing area. The Kemer Country residents argued with the police and displayed the documents of the court’s verdict to stop the construction. Yet, the operation continues as the court has no power against the Presidential Complex. Another scheme is currently in place for the Turkish government to increase their income illegally while violating several human rights such as inhuman treatment, unfair detainment and not being equal before the law, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Turkish citizens still continue to stand up for themselves and hope for the best, but we have had enough. It is time to make a different type of change.
Cover: Twitter / @Pinozden
Edited by: Aidan O’Reilly