12 Ekim 2007 Cuma

Sulukule - worlds oldest Roma settlement?

A run-down district behind a decaying stretch of Istanbul's Byzantine city walls, Sulukule has been home to the Roma (Gypsies) for 10 centuries. It is thought to be the oldest Roma settlement in the world.

But the area has been earmarked for a regeneration project the Roma fear will force them out.

The local authorities plan to buy all the buildings and replace them with Ottoman-style villas, transforming the neighbourhood. They are offering current residents credit to buy the new houses or apartments to rent across town. But many Roma are extremely poor, and they call that unrealistic.

The earliest records of Roma settling in Sulukule date back to 1054.
"The whole westwards migration of Gypsies into Europe began here," says researcher Adrian Marsh. He believes this crucial piece of Roma history should be protected.

"The Gypsies practised fortune-telling then and all sorts of entertainment. They were acrobats, bear leaders, jugglers. They settled here near the city walls where it was dangerous. The walls are always where marginalised groups would be."

For centuries, the Roma continued to make a living through music and dance. Until recently Sulukule was home to nearly 40 entertainment houses. Hugely popular with Turks and tourists, they were the heart of the local economy and community. But the bawdy clubs were closed down in the 1990s. Unemployment now is high, the crime rate has climbed - and the area is descending into a slum.

The local council says the motive behind its urban renewal project is providing safe, hygienic housing for the 21st Century.

Activists are now going door-to-door, gathering information for an alternative proposal. They believe reviving the local entertainment houses is crucial to that. "Many musicians, many artists live here. This is Roma culture, it is very important," explains activist Hacer Foggo.
* By Sarah Rainsford - BBC News

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