Small removal trucks dart along Sakızağaç Caddesi, the main artery cutting through the Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor project area, carrying elaborate piles of furniture, bags of clothing, carpets wrapped in cloth.
Ali, who ran a tiny shoeshine store 50 metres off Tarlabaşı Boulevard carries bags filled with shoelaces, brushes, shoe shining creams and pieces of leather down towards Dolapdere. The yellow building where he rented out a small shop in the basement was not sold yet, but, he says, he has found a nice shop just outside the project area. “No use waiting to the very last minute.” he adds. “They’d evict me sooner or later anyways.”
The urban renewal project Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor was first mentioned in 2006, and slated for completion in 2010. The possibility of demolition has dangled over the neighbourhood like Damocles’ Sword for five years now, with rumours of eviction constantly present: they will come after school is out, after the municipal elections, maybe after school starts, surely after the referendum? While people had started to trickle out of the project area in Tarlabaşı by late 2009, many decided to test fate – and the likelihood of evictions starting just a tad later than official statements made believe.
The last rumoured estimate – that things would get serious after the national elections on June 12, that this time, they would start without any doubt, proved true, and to the surprise of many: After the AKP secured a majority of almost 50%, the AKP-ruled Beyoğlu Municipality has started evictions inside the project area in Tarlabaşı in cooperation with GAP Inşaat, and this time, they move fast. Eviction orders have been distributed to all those residents – both tenants and home owners – whose flats or buildings have been sold, and most residents who have found a home, workshop or shop elsewhere have moved out.
Handan* was evicted on June 24. Her door was welded shut immediately after the police and the municipality cleared out her apartment. “I was in the hospital with my mother when they called me to tell me that I should come to my Tarlabaşı flat immediately. When I did, they had already forced open my door and thrown all my things on the street.” Her son nods. “The police came with gas bombs and everything!” he adds excitedly.
Handan’s husband died five years ago in a car crash, leaving her with her mother and her son who goes to primary school in nearby Cihangır. Handan makes a modest living as a cleaner, wiping staircases in Beyoğlu. “The flat belonged to my husband”, she explains. “I could make ends meet because I did not have to pay rent.” However, since her marriage was only authorised by an imam, and never recognized by the Turkish state, the flat and everything the couple had jointly owned went to the husband’s first and “official” wife that he had never divorced. “She did not tell me that she had sold the flat to GAP”, explains Handan. “So when I received a notice by the company that I would have to clear out of my house, I was deeply shocked.”
The worst thing, she says, was to be treated like a criminal. “The police said I was committing a crime by living in the flat and called me a squatter.” After having received the eviction order, Handan started to look for a flat to rent, but was unable to find something she could afford. “I had bought cardboard boxes, I begged the police to give me one more night to pack my things. I told them that I had been looking for a new apartment but that I didn’t find anything.” When the police and the municipality-employed packers started to throw her possessions on the street and onto a truck parked outside, Handan had a nervous breakdown. “One of the packers was very sad. He told me that it could have happened to him, that he felt sorry for me”, she recalls. “My neighbours later told me that they took all my things to a municipal storage room. I have not heard from them again, and I don’t know where that storage room is.”
Many of Handan’s neighbours are angry with the municipality and GAP Inşaat for handling evictions like they have with Handan. “How can they throw someone out on the street like that?” asks a local shopkeeper. Her downstairs neighbours, a retired couple from Antakya who have lived in their spacious Tarlabaşı flat for 20 years, feel sorry for the young widow now sitting on their couch for the interview. “If she goes back to her hometown, her father will sell her to an older man in marriage”, says Elif* and Handan nods. “I want to be able to stand on my own feet and provide a good education and a good future for my son. I have nothing left in Ağrı, I cannot go back there.”
Authors Note: We will now closely follow evictions and events as they unfold in the neighbourhood, and deliver more regular updates.
* Name changed by the author