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Didem Danış
Ebru Kayaalp


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1How could we describe Elmadağ; as a neighbor­hood just next to Dolapdere or an old Armenian residential area? As the favorite business center of the 1960s or a place where most of Istanbul’s tourism agencies are currently located? Could we describe Elmadağ in light of its inhabitants who have settled here through the internal migration flows from Anatolia or in light of Iraqi immigrants who have recently started living here? Is Elmadağ a neighborhood whose inhabi­tants can express their differences without encountering any difficulties or is it a neighbo­rhood where social and class differentia­tions cause uneasiness among its inhabitants? Or is it possible that it is a combination of all of the above?

2The focus of this research is to analyze the social and spatial transformations of a bounded area, the neighborhood of Elmadağ, which is located within the mahalles of İnönü and Ergenekon in Harbiye. Elmadağ, situated in the southern edge of Şişli Municipality, is enclosed within the area among Cumhuriyet Street on the east, Dolapdere Street on the west and Yedikuyular Street on the south.

3Historically Elmadağ is known as a non-Mus­lim neighborhood where a high population of Armenians, Greeks and Jews were dwelling together. Especially the Catholics of Istanbul established themselves in the neighborhood, with all of their institutions, such as schools, a church, a consulate, foundations and houses. However, the relatively homogenous character of Elmadağ as a non-Muslim enclave within the center of city started to change with the immi­gration of religious minorities to other countries after the Wealth Tax, September 6th-7th events and Cyprus Conflict as well as the emigration of people from Anatolia to Istanbul.

Photo 1. Yedikuyular Street on the southern end of Elmadağ going down to Dolapdere.

Photo 1. Yedikuyular Street on the southern end of Elmadağ going down to Dolapdere.

Tomurcuk Bilge Erzik, August 2003

4The most noteworthy factor constituting the social and cultural makeup of Elmadağ has been the perpetual migration flows. For that reason, our fundamental concern in this study is to analyze the dramatic transformation process that Elmadağ has been going through over a century under the presence of incessant migra­tion flows from various areas. The impact of these migration flows is the underlying aspect in shaping the past, present and prospective posi­tion of Elmadağ. Therefore, we try to explain the spatial, social and cultural transformation of the neighborhood by mapping out the consequences of the various migration flows that it has been subjected to.

5Each migration wave leaving a remark from itself in the texture of the neighborhood has dramatically changed the resident profile as well as the economic, social and cultural panorama of the neighborhood. Elmadağ was first trans­formed radically with the two-sided migration processes between the 1950s and 1970s: while non-Muslim communities moved to other neigh­borhoods or left the country, the vacuum created by their absence was filled by emigrants com­ing from Anatolia. Internal migration that lost its pace after the 1960s, burst back to promi­nence after the mid-1980s with the deepening of political and economic problems breeding the popular unrest in southeastern Anatolia. This resulted in a massive Kurdish flow to Istanbul. One of the remarkable neighborhoods in accom­modating Kurds in Istanbul in the last two decades has been Elmadağ. In addition to the internal immigration flows, many refugees and international transit immigrants have also flowed to Istanbul since the 1990s. Today Elma­dağ also provides shelter to some of the Iraqis as well as transit migrants from several African countries who temporarily settle in Turkey in order to immigrate to third countries.

Map I Şişli Rehberi, Şişli Belediyesi Yayınları, 1987. (scale 1/4000)

Map I Şişli Rehberi, Şişli Belediyesi Yayınları, 1987. (scale 1/4000)

Photo 2 and 3 Two different views of Cumhuriyet Street located between Taksim and Osmanbey.

Photo 2 and 3 Two different views of Cumhuriyet Street located between Taksim and Osmanbey.

Tomurcuk Bilge Erzik, August 2003

6As a result of these internal and international immigration flows, the social profile of Elmadağ has become more heterogeneous. Hence, a main focus of our study is to scrutinize the socioeco­nomic characteristics of these various immi­grant groups as well as their relations with others. Likewise, we try to discuss how the diversity and difference among the inhabitants of Elma­dağ reflect to the social and spatial structure of the neighborhood. We analyze the “feeling of belongingness” of people having different cultur­al backgrounds to Elmadağ and the social rela­tions they establish with the other inhabitants of the neighborhood.

7Parallel to these migration flows of the last five decades, a functional change has taken place in Elmadağ. After the 1950s, there was constant movement of shopping centers, business firms and five star hotels in Istanbul along the Taksim-Harbiye-Osmanbey axis. In this period, Elmadağ attained a business center character along with its present residential feature. However, when Şişli-Mecidiyeköy became a central business dis­trict in the 1970s and then Levent-Maslak in the 1990s, Elmadağ lost its previous significance as a business area. In this respect, we also seek to examine the effects of this functional transfor­mation on the neighborhood.

8Elmadağ is located in one of the urban cen­ters of Istanbul, namely Taksim, which is the hub of Cihangir-Tarlabaşı-Harbiye triangle. Within the multi-nuclei panorama of Istanbul, Taksim area is distinguished by its rich social diversity concerning the people who inhabit, work or stroll here. Cihangir is a recently gentrified area pre­ferred by people with high economic and cultur­al capital; Tarlabaşı-Dolapdere is a slum area inhabited by the urban poor; Feriköy-Kurtuluş has historically been inhabited by various non-Muslim communities. Within this socially and historically divergent region, Elmadağ has a more ambiguous and heterogeneous structure. Demographically, the settlement of different immigrant groups in various historical periods and func­tionally, the transformation of residential sites especially near to Cumhuriyet Street into work places have influenced the social and spatial structure of Elmadağ. In order to envisage the future of Elmadağ, which is a lower-middle class neighborhood squeezed among these disparate districts, we map out the business and residen­tial tendencies within this neighborhood and its position in comparison to other pieces of the fragmented urban structure in Istanbul.

9Our study has five main sections: In the first section, we explain the methodology that we followed while conducting the fieldwork as well as writing the ethnography. It is pertinent to note that rather than adopting mainstream or let’s say prescribed methodologies we preferred to use the “method”, which was simultaneously formulated with our incessant questions in the framework of our academic knowledge and practical difficulties in the field. In the second section, we attempt to discover the historical emergence of Elmadağ as a neighborhood in the 19th century, which has not been studied up till today. We believe that the transformation Elma­dağ has been going through today can no means be apprehended without historical explanations. In the third chapter, we analyze the migration flows from and to Elmadağ. In this regard, we explain in detail the reasons and consequences of the exodus of non-Muslims from the neighborhood, the immigration of Anatolian people in 1950s, Kurdish immigration starting after mid 1980s and international immigration accelerated after 1990s to the neighborhood. We not only try to single out the differences among these migra­tion flows which have been characterized by different political, economic and social factors but also show how Elmadağ has been influ­enced and molded through these migration dynamics. The fourth chapter focusing on the functional transformation of Elmadağ discusses two questions. The first point is about the busi­ness and residential inclinations of the neigh­borhood, whereas the second issue discusses the questions ‘who move in and out the neighbor­hood and why’ to give an idea about the future of Elmadağ. Lastly, in the conclusion we present the inferences that we draw out of this study and we try to discuss the projections about the future of the vicinity.

10The motive behind our decision to conduct a study on Elmadağ is to discover the social and historical richness of Elmadağ, which has re­mained unexamined until today. We think that such a study necessitates an interdisciplinary perspective, which blends sociological, anthro­pological and historical approaches. Besides, we believe that a research on Elmadağ may present the possibility of finding out a connection be­tween micro and macro perspectives and may provide an opportunity for new conceptualizations in urban studies. As “insiders” of Elmadağ, we are also motivated by the desire to bring to light the history of the neighborhood that we live in and the effort to understand the trans­formations that we observe in our daily lives through an academic perspective. Indeed, the topics we aim to focus on in this research have been the questions that we try to answer as inhabitants of Elmadağ as well as social scien­tists.

  • 1 Within the abundant bibliography on shantytowns in Turkey, one can specifically look at Işık & Pına (...)

11Being subject to incessant local, national and international immigration processes and thus experiencing a rapid and severe urban transfor­mation, Istanbul reveals a complex structure. It is possible to understand this complex structure through a micro scale examination of Elmadağ in light of macro dynamics. We believe that an ambitious effort to understand Istanbul in its entirety necessitates a modest study focusing on its fragments, even though such an approach carries its own handicaps too, such as getting stuck in a narrow perspective. Yet, we try to over­come this problem by adopting a comparative perspective such as presenting the differences between the neighboring districts, as well as analyzing the micro transformations with refer­ence to the macro dynamics. Besides, we believe that the analysis of various social networks and patterns within a limited territory has its advan­tages such as the manageability of the research and the discovery of some social patterns and transformations that coexist in a heterogeneous neighborhood such as Elmadağ. Urban studies conducted in Turkey have generally focused more on the transformation of peripheral settle­ments and shantytown dwellers1. We believe that our research in Elmadağ can pave the way for a better understanding of the overall trans­formation of the city by shifting the focus to the inner city areas in the urban studies.

12The research process was enjoyable for us both academically and personally. Mainly it afforded us the opportunity to get acquainted with diverse inhabitants of Elmadağ, who were largely unknown to us before. It was gratifying to open a dialogue with people we would nor­mally never come into communication with. Unfortunately, we encountered the usual social scientist/writer dilemma, and found ourselves unable to encapsulate the sum of our experien­ces within our text, or rather, to have our text be a true reflection of our observations. Academ­ically it was also enjoyable because we were able to draw upon our academic training and background, but without the normal confines of an academic thesis or research. Thanks to the grant provided by l’Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes, we had the freedom to be more creative in our research process, while still drawing upon the tools of our academic back­ground. We hope the reader can also share the excitement and interest that infused this project.


1 Within the abundant bibliography on shantytowns in Turkey, one can specifically look at Işık & Pınarcıoğlu (2001), Kazgan (1999), Şenyapılı (1998), Erder (1996).

Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1. Yedikuyular Street on the southern end of Elmadağ going down to Dolapdere.
Crédits Tomurcuk Bilge Erzik, August 2003
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Titre Map I Şişli Rehberi, Şişli Belediyesi Yayınları, 1987. (scale 1/4000)
Fichier image/jpeg, 308k
Titre Photo 2 and 3 Two different views of Cumhuriyet Street located between Taksim and Osmanbey.
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Crédits Tomurcuk Bilge Erzik, August 2003
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k

© Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 2004

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