This is my very first article translated into English, with a big help of Google Translate. Sorry for any sentences that don’t make sense. I did my best to make it understandable for English speakers.
TIME (srb. VREME)
17 February 2011.
Flying carpets and shopping malls
EUROPEAN UNION, TOGETHER WITH UNESCO IN 1998 BEGAN INTENSIVE WORK ON THE REHABILITATION OF PARTS ISTANBUL FENER-BALAT, WHICH ARE ON THE LIST OF THE WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE. MANY HOUSES HAVE BEEN RENOVATED WITH EUROPEAN MONEY. HOWEVER, NEW URBAN DEVELOPMENT PLAN IN THE SAME AREA PROPOSES MODERN SHOPPING MALLS AND HOTELS. THIRTY OF THE RENOVATED HOUSES ARE PLANNED TO BE DEMOLISH. "THEY BUILD FOR US, WE DESTROY IT, THAT IS MAD", SOME CITIZENS ARE PROTESTING
For “Time“ from Istanbul
After several hours of wandering around the steep streets of the historic area of Istanbul, Ayansaray, finally, at the end of the hill, surrounded by ruined homes, we spotted the city gates from the Byzantine period. Just a few passers-by and residents of this area knew that the "ruins", as they call them, are actually a significant cultural and historic "remains" of turbulent history. Although only ten minutes away from downtown and major tourist zones, residents of this area are swamped with a multitude of problems, from the communal, political to usual economic ones. They don’t think about the long-past times, because they don’t live out of them.
Over the past year, Turkey's largest city and fifth largest city in the world, was the European Capital of Culture. This helped to patch up some holes, but many problems remained unresolved. Many experts argue that Istanbul is still not "recovered" from a large mouthful, which an organization of this event meant. Last year was marked by over 600 exhibitions, concerts and other attractions that recovered the artistic and creative spirit of the city, activating many galleries and museums. However, there is still an impression that Istanbul with its 13 (officially) or 30 (unofficially) millions of inhabitants, is a place too big for the manifestation of this type.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES : World media is still dealing with the last year's European capital of culture discussing how last year somehow "exposed" the Turkish political ambition towards the EU, as well as the feelings of ordinary people of the approach to the consumerist culture that the West represents. London's "Guardian" last week recalled the incident in September when the group of young people raided several Galleries of Modern Art smashing windows and damaging the exhibition. Radical protest was dedicated to the modern artists who advocate the development plans for the relocation of the poor to the periphery, the demolition of abandoned houses and the building of luxurious commercial and residential buildings.
As it corresponds to the place where Europe and Asia kiss, very symbolically in Istanbul, students from British and Turkish school of architecture met. Students from Oxford and their colleagues from Istanbul had an aim to understand the ordinary people and their needs, the city as the point where cultures and people are connected, and Turkey as a country "between two fires". Residential parts of the Istanbul Fener and Balat were taken as the main focus points. With its history, stories and problems, these areas are reflecting the situation throughout the country. With a mission to understand the structure and complexity of the urban environment, the problems which the architecture students faced were more complex than expected.
In this area there is a large number of religious sites which makes Istanbul proud of its multitude of cultures and religions. Fener-Balat is the base of the Greek Orthodox Church having a throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Historically, this was the area of immigrants. Churches, mosques, synagogues are everywhere around. Although the multicultural spirit and presence of diversity cannot be felt as much as architecture is imposing it, historical importance of the region is internationally recognised and along with some other locations in Istanbul, Fener-Balat is declared by the UNESCO world cultural heritage.
The European Union together with UNESCO in 1998 began intensive work on the rehabilitation of these areas. Even today, walking the narrow streets, it is easy to notice a large number of houses that have just collapsed. Terraces, which in many cases hang over sidewalks and streets, often crash, and sometimes the media in Istanbul reports written in tiny letters, that someone was killed by a collapsing tenement houses.
In line with global trends, the European Union in the process of "rehabilitation" advocated "participation" and "contribution" of the inhabitants of the area, giving the biggest role to the non-governmental organizations. In 2000 the EU give seven million euros for the renewal. For the first time in this kind of project local Turkish government was involved as well, allocating two million dollars to the project. Fener and Balat become a paradise for restorers, and by 2008, 120 buildings were reconstructed. Since the project was finished, it has become a synonym for successful urban rehabilitation and caught the attention of the international experts.
"People were hoping that their house will be selected for reconstruction. The criteria were strict. Everyone was enthusiastic and very grateful to the European Union," said Cigdem Sahin from local NGO. She, however, says that the local authorities underestimate the process of rehabilitation of Fener and Balata.
COMPOSING AND DECOMPOSING "In 2010 part of the inhabitants of this area were told that their homes are located in the area of the planned development, which foresees the demolition of a historic part of the area, building a modern complex, which would include a shopping mall and a hotel," said Sahin.
Residents, whose homes are on the territory planned for the implementation of the new development, were given several options to compensate land. They could be displaced to the periphery of Istanbul, or get the money only in the value of the land of their houses.
As one of the founders of the association "Febayder", which is fighting against these plans of the local authorities, Sahin says that the development project is a violation of many laws, international treaties and basic human rights.
"In addition, the spirit of this area will be permanently ruined; destruction of cultural heritage is unacceptable. Turkey wants to be closer to the European Union, and local governments is not doing anything in this regard. We could have started the process in front of an international court, but we cannot until the trial in Turkey is completed. That is slow because of the corruption at every step, "says Sahin.
According to the plans presented, about 30 houses planned to be demolished just a few years ago were renewed by the EU. "They built for us, and we are demolishing it, that is mad," says the association "Febayder.
While some demonstrate against plans of municipal authorities by saying "Do not touch my house", the others are happy about new investment in Fener and Balat. In the pub where only men can go, in the centre of this historic area, a few natives told us that they can’t wait for the the mall and the hotel to be built; it would recover this area and bring in new people, as well as jobs for many unemployed.
"It is not worth that EU funds reconstruction of one house, when around that house three other houses are falling apart. We don’t have other option, they should demolish all of this and build that plan," says Mustafa, who is fifty, and who was born in this area. In that context, when asked about relationship between Europe and Turkey, he said: "We are approaching them for over twenty years and that’s it. I listen to one and the same story for my whole life. Sometimes, we are closer, sometimes we are not, in fact we are nowhere."
It is often argued that the majority of the population has not “seen” in any way three billion U.S. dollars, which were last year invested in Istanbul as the European capital of culture. According to “Le Mond”, one of the organizers Kadir Topbas said that the organizers failed to reach everybody, because Istanbul is the size of a small country. "However, Istanbul has experienced revival, and we have welcomed eight million tourists last year," said Topbas.
FAKE ARMANI: The need for tourists is visible at every step. Walking through the Grand Bazaar you will get hundreds of "best friends" because that is how hyperactive sellers addressed every potential customer. In the total chaos of the underground economy you can also get to know a nice and hospitable merchant who will calmly explain how to distinguish "fake" rug of the handmade one. The first days of stay, while you are fresh and still not tired of energetic sellers, you might by a mistake answer the question “where are you from”. It can easily happen that you find yourself in a situation where the seller speaking proper Serbian language is trying to sell you "Armani" perfume for 10 euros.
Just when you get the impression that the Turkish economy is based on delusions of naive tourists, in the distance you notice a number of glossy skyscrapers that point out the recent growth of the Turkish economy. The north of the European part of Istanbul is the financial centre of the country. The economic development of Istanbul is bringing even more diversity to the historic urban environment.
In a talk at the top of Galata Tower, from where all parts of Istanbul are visable, architects from the Technical University of Istanbul, Ozan Avci and Aslihan Senel explained that the shape of the city is changing every day.
"Istanbul is developing in an unpredictable direction. The problem is that urban plans are not grounded in reality. The city authorities are trying to move the centre of town to the north, as well as to expand the commercial area in this direction," say Avci and Senel adding that such tendencies have symbolic value, because the north of the city symbolizes modern Turkey, free from constraints of misunderstood cultures and religions, tradition which is based in the historical quarters in the south.
Liberation from the constraints is also a state policy of Turkey. Economic growth during the global recovery from the global economic crisis is one of the favourite stories of the local politicians when they find themselves face to face with their European partners. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the foreign media says that the European Union needs Turkey to become stronger. He recently wrote in the American weekly newsmagazine "Newsweek" a criticism of the Union which as he states easily accepts small and weak economies that can be exploited, while stepping away from Turkey which is a big and powerful player.
Inside the country, the story is slightly different. Turkey needs Europe, primarily for economic reasons, since 46% of total export of Turkey is directed towards the EU. However, in recent polls the Turkish support for the membership in the European Union fell from 74% in 2005 when the negotiations for the membership began to 34.8% in January this year. Turkish analysts say that thanks to France and Germany, which are the biggest opponents to the European integration of Turkey, Europe is slowly losing Turkey. Minister for International Trade in Frankfurt last weekend criticized the Germans recent tightening of visa requirements for Turkish companies. Deputy Prime Minister in late January in Davos said that the EU is becoming a "Christian club", referring to the difficulties in negotiations. Demotivating aspect for the people is the fact that despite five years of negotiations on EU membership, citizens of Turkey still cannot move freely through Europe (the Schengen area). Students say that the worst thing is to wait in the lines for visas. Sounds familiar. That’s what it is like when a country is “developing”.