The Sulukule neighbourhood in Istanbul is one of the oldest Roma settlements in Europe, one that is in the process of being demolished, it’s inhabitants being forcibly removed to a new settlement outside of the city where they will no longer be able to work in their traditional occupations.
The Sulukule neighbourhood in Istanbul lies right next to and within the old Byzantine Theodosian walls. It is inhabited by 3,000 Roma, or roughly 80% of the local population, who live in small, single courtyard houses dating back to the Ottoman times. The Roma presence in this quarter is older than the Ottoman conquest of the region, as the first Ottoman tax registers dating from the early 16th century already mention roma living in Istanbul.
Sulukule’s current inhabitants are to be relocated to outside of the city limits in Taşoluk, around 40km west of Istanbul, in large apartment blocks, a new settlement currently unconnected to the public transportation system.
The Roma people here do not have a huge income and the risk that many of the families will end up on the street is already a reality. A few families have found “homes” underneath the highway, about a mile from Sulukule. Many families, whose identity and past lie in Sulukule, have chosen to remain there and have settled on the ruins of their demolished homes.
The grand plan for Sulukule is to renew the housing and to build hotels in the area, on what is part of an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Estimated completion is in 2010, when Istanbul will be the Cultural Capital of Europe.