Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gözde Severoğlu, Indy Johar, Haluk Gerçek and Mimi Zeiger contributed with letters to NCR-05.
Les racines sont profondes et ne meurent jamais ( Edouard Glissant)
Tout soudain, dans le tourbillon du Tout Monde (Edouard Glissant)
Istanbul is the answer…what is the question?
The future is…Istanbul
Hans Ulrich Obrist July 2012
Of all the deeds you are said to have performed during your rule as the East Roman Emperor, I am most curious about the massacre that took place in the hippodrome following the Nika riots. Did this really happen? Could it be that the rioteers needed to tell you something? Did it occur to you that the burdensome taxes you inflicted on them were perhaps too much to endure? The history books record that Contanstinople enjoyed order and unity under your rule. If that is true and if there was indeed order in place, why was the city plundered and set on fire?
As well as wondering about your answers to these questions, I also would like to tell you about what your city – Istanbul as is known today – offers to its inhabitants 1400 years from your time, especially in the area of development and construction of public facilities.
As one of the oldest cities in the world, Istanbul rose up layer after layer in each passing century. There have been times when it was destroyed and reconstructed, and then there have been other times when new structures were overlaid directly on top of existing ones. Development, as it had been in your era, became the focus of current governments.
The taxes required by all the churches, hospitals and citadels you had built in the name of development were serving towards the melioration of one aspect whilst destroying another. The scales were not balanced. Also today, the steps taken for the sake of development embody this imbalance. But that is not the only problem. The public who are deemed worthy of this transformation are forced to leave their homes and relocate to other places.
Instead of improving the existing structures in place, the focus is on gainig maximum profit from the region. In the meantime, the life styles, needs and habits of the locals are completely disregarded. The process in Sulukule is a good example at this point. This area inhabited by Romanis is the centre of a transformation project initiated to cleanse (!) the urban texture here. This act of cleansing serves as a reference for us to better evaluate the authorities’ perception of the cultural formation and the urban heritage. The local governing bodies reject the cultural heritage of the city by nonchalantly ignoring its rich strata of identity information. The rejection of the existence of strata lead to an adandonment of the significance of past lives and experience.
To sum up, the lands of Istanbul are being transformed into “touristic” sites that bring more unearned profit. Every day, prices of groundplots and buildings are increased manyfold, sometimes in foreign currency. Life demands costs that cannot be met by a major segment of the public.
In today’s Istanbul, two bridges are no longer enough, a third is already coming along. Solutions offered in the way of public of transport are nowhere near meeting the needs, and traffic is congested every hour of the day. Accommodation, living, heating and sometimes merely surviving in Istanbul gets increasingly more difficult. At the moment, every single district of Istanbul is pulled to shreds in the name of renovation, urban transformation, improvement, beautification or cleansing. The actions taken can range from the pointless replacement of interlocking pavement stones to the cleansing of an entire district under the heading of urban transformation.
I just wanted to lend you a glimpse of Istanbul as it is today. Many things have changed during the centuries past, but in my opinion, the most significant change is the perpetual diminishing of the number of people who speak up, ask questions and express their concerns. In this age of timidity, apathy and obeisance prevailing over a majority of the public masses, we chose to become mere followers who do not question but only conform. We closed our eyes so that we’d be safe from harm. We just did what we were asked to do, or we did whatever we felt like doing…
And how about you Justinian, the Eastern Roman Emperor? Instead of ruling over the 6th century Constantinople, would you have preferred to govern the Republic of Turkey’s city of Istanbul in the 21st century? What would be your suggestions to this new body of people who are so different from the rioteers of 532?
How will Istanbul become the 21st century cradle of western civilisation?
The very first house of my childhood memories was in Samatya. We could go for a swim or go fishing right outside the house, as it was level with the sea. In the winter months, I would sit by the window and watch the worn-out single-masted sand boats. My father would commute to his work in Sirkeci by train. That’s when I came to love the sea and the trains…. The fishmongers in Samatya Square would dry clusters of bloaters, live shrimps would be bouncing up and down on their stalls. That’s when my love of fish blossomed…
A highway was built on the coastline running in front of the houses. Later, our two-storey house was also demolished.
The year I enrolled in primary school, we moved to Aksaray. I would climb up the Horhor Hill every morning. We would go to school on foot. That’s when I came to love walking. A while later, they demolished the wooden structure of that school… When the Vatan and Millet streets were opened, we watched the destruction of the old houses and hamams into rubble and dust. The new street was so wide and empty that it became an incomparable football field for the children of the neighbourhood. We would move to the side of the road when a car passed occasionally. That’s when I grew to love playing ball.
When I was a boarding student at junior high-school, I knew all the innercity boats running on the Kadıköy-Karaköy line by their names. That’s when I got to love boats and trams. For me, Istanbul consisted of the historical peninsula for many years. Our primary sources of entertainment were competitive neighbourhood matches and cinemas. The cinemas in Şehzadebaşı would show five films consecutively. In the weekends we would go to the Bulvar Cinema in Aksaray. Those cinemas no longer exist. I got to know Beyoğlu when I enrolled at Technical University. We got used to riding on buses and ‘dolmuş’es. My love of the cinema grew with Emek Cinema. I am afraid it will also be demolished very soon…
In my twenties, I became a local of Kadıköy. Most of the innercity boats of my childhood had retired. Then they built bridges across the Bosphorus. Now the roads can hardly hold all the automobiles and trucks that fill them. As the number of vehicles grows at a terrifying rate, more new and useless roads, junctures and tunnels are built.
Forests, watersides, seaviews, and the slopes of meandering valleys and faraway hills are sold to whomever can pay the price. You are being consumed and uglified in the hands of a greedy and vulgar crowd. Some people call this improvement and change.
You are here for a only a little bit longer. I know, you are crying your tears inside. Farewell, beautiful Istanbul. I will miss you.
What is the contemporary sound of Istanbul?