Istanbul -- The legendary music clubs and belly dancers were the first to go. There’s no longer a trace of the lively coffee shops or balcony restaurants. And now, the once-narrow alleyways are strangely opened wide: because of the bulldozers, Sulukule, a gypsy settlement within Istanbul that dated back to before the 15th century, has become nothing more than a memory.
Nearly 1,000 years of history have been unceremoniously demolished over the past six months as the last buildings of this relic of the Ottoman empire have been razed. The roar of bulldozers was unbearable for those within earshot, but barely a sound has reverberated throughout the rest of Istanbul, Turkey and the world, as Europe’s oldest permanent gypsy settlement was torn down.
“Now it is gone,” laments Sukru Punduk, close to tears. Punduk, 41, is a Roma musician and native of the district, which traces its history back to Byzantine times. He sits with a few other Roma men in an Istanbul café, angered by the destruction of their homes, businesses and way of life. The demolition—or redevelopment, in the words of the governing authorities—began in 2006. The few remaining buildings next to Istanbul’s centuries-old stone walls were crushed during the past year.
The Roma families who were from this historic neighborhood feel the destruction is also an attack upon their heritage and culture. Once the proud home of nearly 5,000 Roma people, only about five percent are left in the district as bulldozers flatten the mounds of debris.
“Will we continue to exist or will our culture disappear?” Punduk asks.
In 2007, when this shot was taken, the area was still inhabited. (Photo: Sean David Hobbs)
Demolitions began in Sulukule in 2006 as the municipal government started a process billed as urban renewal. However, the national Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the municipal government’s Justice and Development Party (known as the AK Party) sold some of the newly-emptied land to family members and friends of AK Party leaders.
Hacer Foggo, whose glasses give her the air of a scholar, is one of the founders of th