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Cablegate: Sulukule Project Pits Roma Minority Against

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0435/01 2281407
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151407Z AUG 08 ZDS
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8380
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 7862
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000435

C O R R E C T E D COPY - ADDING SENSITIVE CAPTION

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV AA TU OSCE
SUBJECT: SULUKULE PROJECT PITS ROMA MINORITY AGAINST
ISTANBUL,S NEED TO MODERNIZE

REF: A. ISTANBUL 166
B. 06 ANKARA 06580

ISTANBUL 00000435 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Following the demolition of large numbers
of substandard homes in Istanbul's predominantly ethnic Roma
neighborhood Sulukule, most residents remain in the rubble of
the partially demolished neighborhood. Roma community leaders
contend the municipality is committing a serious human rights
violation by destroying the historic area and forcing out its
impoverished occupants. The municipal mayor and other
contacts defend the project as badly needed urban renewal
prior to Istanbul assuming the role in 2010 of European
Center of Culture. End Summary.

A "Voluntary" Move under Threat of Expropriation
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

2. (SBU) Located in the shadows of Istanbul's Byzantine
walls, Sulukule is home to about 5,000 residents in 680
households, of which an estimated 3,500 are Roma. The
municipality began demolishing homes in late 2007 and plans
to build 620 faux-Ottoman townhouses in their place as part
of a government-funded 100 million YTL (USD 87 million) urban
renewal project in preparation for Istanbul's role as the
European Center of Culture in 2010 (Ref A). The municipality
has offered Sulukule homeowners 50,000 YTL (43,000 USD) for
each house. Mustafa Demir, the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) mayor of the Fatih municipality that
subsumes Sulukule, told us this amount is well above market
value of the squalid homes, and could be used toward the
160,000 YTL purchase price of a new home in the renovated
neighborhood. Calling Demir's position unrealistic, Sulukule
Roman Culture Solidarity and Development Association
President Sukru Pankuk said Roma have no way to pay the
balance and are being forced from t
he neighborhood. He argues that the property value of their
current homes is far greater than the municipality's offer
and will be even greater in the future.

3. (SBU) Pankuk explained the Roma homeowners see little
choice but to accept the arguably above-market rate being
offered by non-resident buyers seeking to ensure a right to
purchase a townhouse once the renovation project is complete.
Fully 80 percent of them have sold their houses to
non-resident buyers for up to 70,000 YTL, while between 10
and 15 residents have sold their properties to the
municipality. The Association contends that of 680
households, only 303 have accepted the municipality's
suggestion to move to Tasoluk, a non-descript neighborhood 40
kilometers away that has no wage-earning opportunities in
traditional Roma activities such as entertainment. Demir, in
contrast, told us one-third of the Sulukule population has
accepted. The municipality plans to complete the
government-sponsored relocation of all (willing) Sulukule
residents to Tasoluk by August 20.

Exceptional "Money Making" Opportunity for Residents?
--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. (SBU) The government contends it has provided Roma
residents a positive economic opportunity by removing
barriers to purchase the newly- built Sulukule townhouses.
Housing board (TOKi) and municipality contacts told us
Sulukule residents will have a right to purchase prior to
others, won't have to pay taxes or the usual 25 percent down
payment, and may extend TOKi's normal 10 year mortgage
payment plan to 15 years. Demir endorsed the municipality's
plan as a "money maker" for residents, claiming they could
find new housing near Sulukule and sublease their Tasoluk
units for 500 YTL while paying as little as 250 YTL per month
themselves.

5. (SBU) Demir told us the project is part of a broader
effort to address the proliferation of substandard, and often
illegal, housing throughout Istanbul. The expropriation
provisions of the Renovation and Utilization of Deteriorated
Cultural Properties Act (Act 5366) are a powerful tool for
revitalizing such areas, including Roma neighborhoods
Ayvansaray, Fener-Balat, and Yenikapi (Ref B). While Demir
proudly announced no homes were expropriated in Sulukule, he
acknowledges Act 5366 would allow such a measure. The
Association claims many land holders sold their property
under the implicit threat of expropriation.

Preservation of Cultural Identity
--------------------------------------------- -----

ISTANBUL 00000435 002.2 OF 002

6. (SBU) Demir claims the government is taking sufficient
measures to preserve Roma cultural identity. None of the
historical sites are representative of the Roma presence as
Roma culture manifests itself in temporal activities and not
in permanent structures. Regardless, the municipality will
send 50 Roma women and an undetermined number of Roma
children to vocational schools to be trained t make
handicrafts to be used in the renovation o the
neighborhood's Ottoman architecture. In addiion, the new
housing complex will include courtyrds for dancing, a formal
musical training cente, and a small touristic hotel with a
horse drawncarriage. The municipality encourages the Roma to
apply for positions as carriage drivers and dancer, and to
enroll their children in the formal musc training center.

7. (SBU) Comment: Both side have valid arguments. Though
Roma homeowners wil receive a sizeable sum from the
municipality fr their current properties, the community's
move rom its historic location threatens its cultural
integrity and traditional economic opportunities. ormer
Sulukule renters will have limited income earning
opportunities and a move to a distant suburb will make
earning a living even more difficult. However, the Roma's
contention that it is a human rights violation for the
municipality to expect the Roma to work in any occupation or
location other than those they have arguably occupied for
centuries is divorced from the realities of life in a major
European city in the twenty-first century. End Comment.
OUDKIRK

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