Tue, Jun 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Putting profits over people fueling discontent in Turkey

Many Turks are furious about what they say is the government’s failure to address social issues and listen to people’s needs, while setting aside billions to build shopping centers, satellite cities, airports and other big projects

By Constanze Letsch  /  The Guardian, ISTANBUL, Turkey

The immaculate yellow, beige and orange high-rises of Kayasehir, a satellite city development one-and-a-half hours from Taksim Square, look like cardboard models against the horizon.

It is the biggest satellite development in Turkey, with 65,000 apartments currently under construction. Once the project is completed, the population of Kayasehir is expected to total 400,000. Schools, clinics, mosques, supermarkets, police stations and recreational areas cater to residents’ needs. In the center of the development, a currently semi-empty shopping center will host 172 shops and restaurants, offices, a hotel and a multiplex cinema.

Yet for many, taking on the mortgage required to buy a house in a TOKI development is a risk that can easily end in homelessness — especially if one holds an insecure job and has no regular monthly income, as is the case for many former Tarlabasi residents.

In a chain restaurant next to the local Imam Hatip secondary school, a group of teenage boys crowd around a table, smoking and drinking tea.

“This is the only place to hang out here,” Yavuz Selim, 17, said. “And everything is very expensive. As students we cannot afford it.”

His friends agree.

“We are quite bored here. There is nothing to do for us,” they said.

Some of the boys attend soccer practice at a club an hour away.

“We have asked the management for more sports facilities,” said Firat Suru, 18. “They are now building one football field. One. How would that be enough for so many people?”

While the municipality has increased local transport over the past year, the last buses leave at 10pm and many of the families who live in Kayasehir cannot afford cars.

“We feel isolated from the city center here,” Yusuf Sari, 16, said. “A bit cut off, really.”

Analysts say this kind of segregation changes the idea of a city — a space where different parts of society coexist — and will create long-term social and economic problems.

“It is very likely that these will end up like the banlieues in France,” Adanali said. “Spatial isolation and the social concentration of certain segments of society will create discontent. This discontent, too, is isolated from the rest of society. People start to feel that they cannot escape this isolation, which makes matters worse.”

While most of the boys in Kayasehir do not agree with the protests in Taksim, they say they respect other people’s opinions.

“And we feel concerned by what is going on because the protesters are mostly our own age,” Selim said.

Ali Cuhacioglu, 54, a carpenter who was evicted from his Tarlabasi workshop two months ago, is fed up with the lack of communication between the city’s authorities and the public.

“They don’t respect us, they don’t care about us,” he said.

“They pass laws and decrees as they like. We’re expected to shut up and accept them,” he added.

Ali said that he would join the Taksim Square protests if he had the time.

“The government now needs to see that we have had enough. It is harder and harder to survive for us. Istanbul is no place for poor people any more,” he said.

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