An Istanbul court unanimously ruled in three separate lawsuits to annul the preliminary project to transform the historical Roma district of Sulukule on the grounds it was not in the public's interest.
The Istanbul Chamber of Architects, the Chamber of Urban Planners and the Roma Cultural Advancement and Solidarity Association had filed the suit, arguing that the project was built over a protected area against the decisions of the Regional Conservation Council and that it violated the Roma community's property rights.
The construction of the villas by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) and the Özkar Group has almost reached completion, however, as judicial authorities did not pass a verdict to stay the project's execution in the process.
"The project needs to be redone"
"The municipality must implement the decision without delay as it was a verdict passed by an administrative court, even though they reserve the right to appeal it," said the Roma Association's lawyer Hilal Küey.
That leaves the question of what to do with the project hanging in the air, however, as it consists of 640 houses whose construction have already been completed, sold out at sky-high prices and which cannot house more than 50 Roma families.
A new project then needs to be drawn up that takes heed of the Roma community's property rights, which does not spoil the historical silhouette or exceed the boundaries of the historical walls, as mentioned in the court's verdict, according to Küey.
The displaced Roma community could also sue the Turkish state for damages, if authorities fail to comply.
Another lawsuit filed by the Roma Association and three Roma citizens in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is already underway, Küey explained. As such, the Turkish court's verdict will also influence the outcome of the trial at the ECHR, and the litigant parties could also receive recompense from the European court, too, he added.
"There is no public interest, as they did not consult the public"
"We had been saying from the start that this project runs against public interest. Now it has been affirmed," said Hacer Foggo from the Sulukule Platform.
"It runs against public interest because [they] never consulted with the residents of Sulukule, leading to a grave [injustice.] The poor have gotten poorer," she said.
Foggo also said she was in Sulukule as we were writing this story and that construction work was still underway despite the court's decision.
What happened at Sulukule?
Cabinet declared the district of Sulukule encompassing the Neslişah and Hatice Sultan Neighborhoods to be an area for "urban transformation" in 2006.
A long struggle then ensued in the streets, while the World Heritage Committe referred to the project as a "social ostracization, gentrification and urban profiteering" scheme.
Demolition work began in Sulukule on May, 2009, but the court did not issue a verdict to stay the execution. Authorities then passed Sulukule onto the Özkar Group in May, 2010, which subsequently began construction work in the district along with TOKİ.
Some 300 Roma families who consequently moved from Sulukule to their new TOKİ houses in Taşoluk eventually returned back to Karagümrük, with the exception of two, on the grounds they had difficulty in "meeting their payments." (NV)