By Willa Hine
In 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stepped on to the podium exclaiming: “I don’t want to see my Roma brothers in tents any more. I want them to enjoy a decent standard of living.”
This was the democratic push that the Justice Development Party (AKP) made to reach out to ethnic minorities. Soon, the Housing Development Administration, TOKI, revealed plans to improve the living standards of Roma communities by building new housing complexes. Despite these promises, on June 28, 2011, at 6 a.m. municipality bulldozers razed the tents and shacks of Küçükbakkalköy, the oldest gypsy settlement in Turkey, destroying not only homes, but also the lives of 350 families. Only three families remain in the neighborhood. Most have gone to live with relatives, while others live on the street.
As seen in the video, the Dalkoparan family is living in dire conditions, and the man of the house, Ayodoğan Dalkoparan, is on a respirator. For now they find shelter under the loose fabric of what could be salvaged before their lives were carried away in the buckets of TOKI’s bulldozers. In Turkey, once a house is knocked down, it no longer exists on paper.
After Küçükbakkalköy was demolished, the land was bought out, and now it is being prepared for construction. TOKI offered displaced families rooms in a proposed high rise, as long as they make a hefty down payment, which most cannot afford. When contacted for comment on this subject, a government office expressed little interest in speaking with the press.
Cihan Baysal, a well-known advocate for the Roma in Istanbul said: “The upper class live in an aquarium. If anything blurs the glass, they don’t want it.” It is as if the few families left in Küçükbakkalköy are living in purgatory, trying to find answers, asking one government official after another.