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
06100 Bakanliklar / ANKARA
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.
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