"Current conditions in Turkey do not permit the return of internally displaced persons “in safety and with dignity,” in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement."
~ HRW, "Still critical" Prospects in 2005 for Internally Displaced Kurds in Turkey.
~ HRW, "Still critical" Prospects in 2005 for Internally Displaced Kurds in Turkey.
There's a very old neighborhood in Beyoğlu, Istanbul that, once upon a time, was the home of a large Greek population. Nowadays it's home to a lot of Kurdish refugees who were forcibly displaced from their villages by TSK in the 1990s. It's also home to Gypsies, Iraqi Arabs, some other refugees, and transsexuals. The neighborhood is called Tarlabaşı and it's slated for gentrification because it's located on some of Istanbul's prime real estate.
Last year, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a report on Tarlabaşı, which you can listen to at this page:
Waves of migration from the Turkish countryside have swelled Istanbul's population to more than 12 million people, making it one of the world's megacities. Economic migrants have overwhelmed the city's infrastructure and services.
And in what was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, one of Istanbul's most notorious slums has spung up.
Tarlabasi is a densely populated maze of narrow streets that wend between crumbling Ottoman-era houses built on a hillside.
It's located right next to the commercial and cultural heart of Istanbul and, yet, most Turks consider Tarlabasi a no-go zone.
Not only is it considered a "no-go zone" by Turks, but Turkish police are afraid to go there. Given Tarlabaşı's winding, narrow streets, I'm willing to bet TSK is afraid of it, too. Maybe this is a big part of the reason for their fear:
"When you walk down in Tarlabasi — when you go to the market on a Sunday — you don't hear Turkish spoken at all. It's either Kurdish or Arabic," Pertan says. "And they all wear their own national costumes and sit in the street, so you think, really, that you're in an Anatolian village. Nothing to do with the 19th-century elegant Greeks."
In the weekly outdoor bazaar in Tarlabasi, rural life raucously collides with the modern urban world.
Here, less than a mile from Istanbul's five-star hotels, child shepherds herd flocks of sheep through the streets as Kurdish women in bright floral headscarves shop for fruit and cheap Chinese-made cosmetics alongside trembling, teenage glue-sniffers and illegal African immigrants.
This week, Hürriyet reported that some hitches have appeared in developers' efforts to encourage Tarlabaşı's residents to vacate, via TDN:
. . . [T]he winning bidder on the project, GAP İnşaat, is offering residents a property exchange program that many say is far from just. The company has offered a 50-square-meter house to the owner of a three-story house in which each floor is 50 square meters.
The conditions offered to owners of offices are even worse. The company has offered two stores 25 square meters and 65 square meters in size in a new shopping center to the owner of an eight-story office block located on Tarlabaşı Street.
Being that this is Turkey, it gets worse:
"We own a 75-square-meter house. The authorities told us that they would give us a house that is 40 square meters in size. Later, we asked the authorities how we will manage to live in a such a small house with our four children," said Fatma Yalçın, living in Halepli Bekir Street.
"The authorities told us that they would give us a 84-square-meter house in Küçükçekmece. We told an authority working in the municipality that we would not leave our house in such a valuable region and move to Küçükçekmece," Yalçın said.
"Return to your village, then," was the reaction of the authority, Yalçın added.
For many, if not most, forcibly displaced Kurds, a return to their villages is not possible, as HRW well-documented in 2002. Last year's human rights report on Turkey from the US State Department admitted the following:
In December 2006 Hacettepe University released the results of a study that was commissioned by the government, which concluded that an estimated 953,680 to 1,301,200 persons were displaced by conflict in the southeast between 1986 and 2005. The study found that the main reason for the large discrepancy between government and NGO figures was that the government only included persons evacuated by the security forces from settlements, and not those who were forced to flee because of general violence or for a combination of security and economic reasons.
[ . . . ]
On June 26, Jandarma and village guards forced villagers to leave the Ceme Kare hamlet of Yapraktepe village of Siirt's Pervari district after the Turkish military proclaimed a "special security zone" in portions of Hakkari, Sirnak, and Siirt Provinces. The villagers, members of the nomadic Kican and Batuyan tribes, were evicted for security reasons in 1989 but repatriated to the area in 2003. When villagers protested security forces' orders to evacuate, the troops forcibly loaded their belongings onto trucks and took the belongings to the Pervari Jandarma station. Many villagers remained in Ceme Kare hamlet, although without provisions and with no access to their crops. The following day, after several villagers filed an administrative complaint, security forces blocked the main point of access to the village. Villagers alleged that the action prevented a couple from obtaining treatment for their sick infant, leading to the baby's death. On August 8, a villager filed an administrative complaint with the Siirt governorship. Jandarma officials took the applicant and 15 villagers into custody for questioning and released them the same evening.
Village guards occupied homes abandoned by IDPs and have attacked or intimidated IDPs attempting to return to their homes with official permission. For example, village guards reportedly threatened and beat Hayrettin Yildirim on several occasions since he returned to the village of Kasyayla in Batman Province three years ago. On April 10, village guards opposed to Yildirim and other returnees' attempts to resettle the land beat him to the point where he required medical attention, according to the HRA and an April 23 report in Radikal newspaper.
In 2005, HRW discussed the prospects for the return of Kurdish refugees to their villages:
In place of policy or program achievements for internally displaced people (IDPs), the Turkish government supplied the E.U. with statistics suggesting that returns are proceeding at a regular pace. If a third of the displaced had returned to their homes, as the government claimed, this would be a respectable performance. In fact, progress has been much more limited. Human Rights Watch has compared some of the government statistics with the situation on the ground. Our analysis found that the official statistics are not entirely reliable, and that permanent returns are running at a much lower rate than indicated.
The practical obstacles to return remain: villagers are slow to return because their homes and villages have been destroyed and the security situation in the remote countryside remains precarious. Many of the villagers who return live in primitive shelters located in settlements without electricity, telephone, education, or health facilities. Assistance with reconstruction and support in re-establishing agriculture is minimal or non-existent.
Village guards—paramilitaries, usually Kurdish, armed and paid by the government to fight the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party, now known as Kongra Gel)—have not been disarmed, and are implicated in attacks on returning IDPs. Regular security forces have also committed extrajudicial executions of IDPs.
Current conditions in Turkey do not permit the return of internally displaced persons “in safety and with dignity,” in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (U.N. Guiding Principles).
Tarlabaşı's residents have joined together to fight the developers:
. . . [T]he residents of Tarlabaşı have established the Association of Cooperation and Improvement of Tarlabaşı Property Owners and Tenants in order to raise their voices against an urban regeneration program they say is harming their quality of life.
Developers never want to pay what land or buildings are worth when it comes to gentrification or other development projects, so I hope the residents of Tarlabaşı stick to their guns. If they decide to sell, they need to make sure the developers pay just compensation--down to the very last kuruş--because the Ankara regime's return and compensation programs have never been worth the paper they've been printed on . . . As many residents of Tarlabaşı well know.