Derbent is located in Sarıyer, a northern district of Istanbul. It was only a village on the outskirts of the city when migrants from rural Anatolia coming to Istanbul for work settled there around 50 years ago. After several decades of demographic boom, the neighbourhood is now encircled by gated communities.
Derbent is a so-called gecekondu which literally means “built at night.” According to urban researcher Orhan Esen, the term refers to “a specific housing and settlement typology of self-service urbanisation that occurred during Turkey’s industrialisation and rural migration in the period between 1945 and 1985.”
Although illegal, these settlements have been tolerated by the local authorities as a way to cut the costs of urban planning. During the last 25 years, most of them have been transformed for mass-housing, something that makes Istanbul, in the words of Orhan Esen, a “post-gecekondu city whereby developers convert households in the former gecekondus to middle-class standards.” But in the middle of the city, you can still see some gecekondus remaining: often only a block or a few houses.
A plan to demolish Derbent has been on standby for the past 30 years. The people of the neighbourhood, officially called “squatters,” have been fighting this decision for long. They have been through court and acted politically in order to protect their right to own and live on this land, whose property title now has fallen into the hands of a private investor.
On February 8, the police came to Derbent. While they never started the demolition, 40 families had already sold their houses — without informing the other neighbours — to a private company that wants to build a gated community. Many of the residents who found out about these plans got very angry and started demonstrating. With their own eyes, they now saw the consequence of the construction company’s strategy to divide them. This runs the risk of breaking their strong resistance movement, and in the end diminishes their chance of staying in their homes.