Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

U.S. Helsinki Commission Troubled by Treatment of Sulukule Roma in Istanbul

WASHINGTON- Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), along with Helsinki Commissioners Congressmen Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), sent the following letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan, regarding the Sulukule urban transformation project. The letter expresses concern about the demolition of this historic community, which dates back to 1054, and whose residents will be forced to relocate to a town 40 kilometers outside of the city. Many residents cannot afford to relocate and will be forced onto the streets of Istanbul. (Please find below a copy of the letter)

April 4, 2008

His Excellency Recep Tayip Erdogan

The Prime Minister

T.C. Basbakanlik

06100 Bakanliklar / ANKARA

TURKEY

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

We write to express our concern about the Sulukule urban transformation project developed by the Fatih and Greater Istanbul municipalities. It is our understanding that six districts in Istanbul including Sulukule, have been chosen to undergo urban transformation as part of the 2010 European Capitol of Culture. While we understand the need to preserve many historical landmarks in Istanbul, we are deeply troubled that Sulukule, home to a Roma community since 1054 and one of the oldest Romani settlements in Europe, is on the brink of total demolition and will be replaced with new villa style homes. The unfortunate outcome of this urban renewal project will not only destroy this historic neighborhood, but will force 3,500 Sulukule residents 40 kilometers outside of the city to the district of Tasoluk or onto the streets.

Roma are currently one of the largest, poorest, and fastest growing minority populations in Europe, and remain the target of pervasive racial attacks and discrimination. At the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul Summit, Turkey and all other OSCE participating States agreed: “We recognize the particular difficulties faced by Roma and Sinti and the need to undertake effective measures in order to achieve full equality of opportunity, consistent with OSCE commitments, for persons belonging to Roma and Sinti. We will reinforce our efforts to ensure that Roma and Sinti are able to play a full and equal part in our societies, and to eradicate discrimination against them.” The protection of human rights and the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination required by the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent documents of the OSCE remain critically important to the United States Helsinki Commission, and therefore we are particularly concerned about the eroding conditions for the Romani community in Sulukule.

The Roma community in Sulukule is living on the fringes of society and continues to be treated unfairly. Instead of implementing an urban renewal project that would preserve this centuries-old neighborhood and allow the Roma there to remain together as a community, they will be dispersed and forced to migrate elsewhere.

The Romani residents of Sulukule have essentially been unable to work since 1992, when the municipality closed down the music and entertainment venues that had been the lifeblood of the community and a major tourist attraction. With this source of income gone, the Roma of Sulukule have found it increasingly difficult to earn a living.

We understand that the residents of Sulukule have been offered the opportunity to purchase the new homes that will be built as part of the project. However, we are advised that the homes are quite expensive and, given the Romani community’s lack of employment and income, this is an empty gesture. We also understand that the offer of housing in Tasoluk, some 40 kilometers outside of Istanbul, is also well beyond the means of the current residents of Sulukule, making it all the more likely that the majority of them will be forced to live on the streets.

Mr. Prime Minister, we urge you to work to find a common solution that will ensure that the residents of Sulukule are treated with dignity and respect, that their culture and contribution to the history of Istanbul are preserved and that they are given the opportunity to work, provide shelter and education to their families and contribute fully to Turkish society.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Alcee L. Hastings, M.C., Chairman

Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S.S. , Co-Chairman

Joseph R. Pitts , M.C., Commissioner

G.K. Butterfield, M.C., Commissioner

 

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Publications

HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

Jun 30, 2022

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Cardin, Wicker Recognition of Romani Americans Clear...

Jun 10, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) lauded unanimous passage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday of S. Res.124, the first official acknowledgement by Congress of the genocide of the Romani people by the Nazis. The resolution, first authored by Cardin and Wicker in 2019 and reintroduced […]

screen-reader-text
helsinki commission logo 368x331
Publications

Helsinki Commission Summer 2021 Digital Digest

Aug 02, 2021

screen-reader-text
Statements

Cardin and Wicker Discuss July 2021 Congressional De...

Jul 21, 2021

Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I take this time to talk about the work of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in a recent opportunity we had to participate in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I am joined on the floor by Senator Wicker, who is the Republican chair of the Helsinki Commission. The two of us have worked […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Delegation Advances Priority Iss...

Jul 15, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) last week led a U.S. delegation to the 2021 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session in Vienna, Austria. The assembly was the first major gathering with an in-person component since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The 2021 […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Tribute to Erika Schlager

Jun 21, 2021

I want to acknowledge one individual who recently announced that she is retiring, Erika Schlager, after 34 years of service to the Commission and to the global community. Erika received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She […]

screen-reader-text
Logo_tile_368x331
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Commemorates 45 Years of Advanci...

Jun 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, on June 3, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The Helsinki Commission has played a vital role in elevating […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki Commission Logo 1500x770
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: April 2021

Apr 30, 2021

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leaders Commemorate Internationa...

Apr 08, 2021

WASHINGTON—Ahead of International Roma Day on April 8, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), commission leaders the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-04) introduced resolutions in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives celebrating Romani American heritage. […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hastings Marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Jan 27, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) today released the following statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day: “International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a place more emblematic of the tragedy of the Holocaust than any other.  Today, we remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust […]

screen-reader-text
Articles

Ambassador Max Kampelman’s Contributions to the Hels...

Jan 25, 2021

By Emma Derr, Max Kampelman Fellow The Helsinki Commission’s flagship fellowship program recognizes former U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman, who spent his life working toward comprehensive security at home and across the Atlantic. Over his career, which spanned more than half a century, Kampelman defended the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, strengthened the Helsinki process, […]

screen-reader-text
Articles

OSCE Ministerial Council Appoints Top Leaders, Adopt...

Dec 21, 2020

By Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Foreign ministers of the 57 OSCE participating States convened on December 3 – 4, 2020, for the 27th OSCE Ministerial Council. For the first time, this annual gathering was convened in an entirely virtual format due to the challenges posed […]

screen-reader-text