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Ebru Kayaalp


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1In this research, we aimed to analyze the social and functional transformations of a neighbor­hood. Our starting point was a spatially bound­ed area, Elmadağ, which is enclosed among Cumhuriyet Street on the east, Dolapdere Street on the west and Yedikuyular Street on the south. We tried to discover the sociological character­istics of this topographically defined area by figuring out the consequences of various social and spatial transformations.

2In our project, among several observations and inferences on Elmadağ, we singled out three main arguments, which we have discussed in detail. First, we made observations about the functional and residential transformation of the neighborhood in the past and present. Second­ly, we paid specific attention to the incessant migration flows that Elmadağ has been subject­ed for years. And lastly, we tried to figure out the interactions as well as feeling of belongingness of inhabitants in the neighborhood espe­cially under the issue of their movements in and out of the neighborhood. In the following pages, we want to conclude our study under these three headings that could be summarized as analyses on the location, migration flows and feeling of belongingness.

3What appears to the outsider as a homoge­neous and perhaps static district can in fact be quite heterogeneous in terms of social and cul­tural traits. Elmadağ, as an example for such highly mixed settlement areas has constantly been in a state of change. Initially, it became known as a non-Muslim location on the periph­ery of the built-up area more than a century ago. The early era of neighborhood was charac­terized with the existence of formal institutions targeting mainly the Catholic community. Indeed, towards the turn of the century, the empty land lying in the opposite direction of the large Armenian cemetery came out as a new neighborhood with several Catholic institu­tions: a hospital (Surp Agop Hospital, 1837), a church (St. Esprit Church, 1846), and two schools (Notre-Dame de Sion School, 1856 and Saint-Esprit primary school attached to the Church).

4The development of the neighborhood went hand in hand with the Westernization movement of the 19th century, which manifested itself in the restructuring of the urban space. Elmadağ, along with new neighborhoods such as Teşvikiye, Cihangir and Nişantaşı, became popularized as the historical peninsula lost its allure for the Ottoman elite who yearned for liv­ing closely to the new palaces in Dolmabahçe and Yıldız. During the same period, Pera-Beyoğlu turned out to be more and more attractive as the loci of ‘European taste’ by the Western embas­sies, shops and entertainment activities. The development of Elmadağ district is thus related both to the residential movement of Ottoman bureaucracy as well as to the expansion of Beyoğlu towards new locations that carried similar aspirations of life style.

5In the past, the majority of the inhabitants of Elmadağ were non-Muslims with different eco­nomic status. The affluent non-Muslims as the descendants of the urban bourgeoisie settled in the western style apartments of the prestigious Cumhuriyet Street, whereas the low income non-Muslims were living in the inner streets of Elmadağ. The Catholic institutions settled in Elmadağ have provided the educational, reli­gious and social services for lower income and needy people of the community. In the past, these formal organizations have played a lead­ing role in fostering social relations among the residents of the neighborhood and in creation of a socially integrated fabric within the city based on religious social networks. Yet, during the Republican era, the weakening of these Catholic institutions as well as the immigration of the non-Muslims to other neighborhoods and countries became the two mutually influential factors that paved the way for Elmadağ’s trans­formation from mainly a non-Muslim neighbor­hood to an ethnically and religiously heterogene­ous location.

6Cumhuriyet Street has always been an under­lying factor in determining the socio-spatial texture of the neighborhood. In the 1950s the construction of several international hotels and concurrently the opening of tourism agencies as well as the branches of several banks on the Cumhuriyet Street redefined the functional status of the neighborhood and contributed to the shift of new corporate and banking center to the north. The heydays of Cumhuriyet Street continued till the mid-1970s with its newly constructed Western style apartments, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and public buildings. Yet, as city center has moved further to north, the attractiveness of Cumhuri­yet Street and thus Elmadağ have begun to fade away.

7Far from claiming that Elmadağ has turned out to be a purely business location in the cen­ter of the city, we should note that Elmadağ has started to be an attractive location for several small entrepreneurs opening workplaces here to serve the people working on the Cumhuriyet Street. The newly opened workplaces, such as restaurants, parking lots, coiffeurs in the streets of Elmadağ, which are profoundly dependent on the customers working mostly on the Cum­huriyet Street, actually have nothing to do with the locals of Elmadağ who are mostly low income earners. This relative economic depend­ency of these workplaces on people working at the offices of the Cumhuriyet Street remains as a remarkable feature in shaping the neighbor­hood’s business inclinations.

8Elmadağ which has always been a home for immigrants turns out to be a neighborhood that is constantly in flux, transition and transforma­tion. The formation of the neighborhood never ceases owing to the endless population circula­tions within the location. The current heteroge­neous inhabitant profile of the neighborhood is indebted to the incessant migration flows occurred in different periods. As we mentioned in the third chapter, Elmadağ has been subject­ed to three main migration flows: Anatolian immigration of 1950’s, Kurdish immigration starting with mid-1980s and lastly, internation­al immigration after the 1990s which all had different consequences on the social transfor­mation of the neighborhood.

9The first influential immigration wave to Elmadağ, the rural-to-urban immigration of the 1950s and 1960s, occurred almost simultane­ously with the departure of non-Muslim inhab­itants of the neighborhood. The switch of non- Muslims by Muslims in Elmadağ had various consequences, including economic ones since it gave rise to a transfer of wealth and jobs from the former to the latter group in the years of Wealth Tax and 6th-7th September events. Even though we have not official verifications con­firmed by the data of the Deed Office (Tapu Müdürlüğü) the interviews conducted with the inhabitants clearly illustrated that Elmadağ was one of neighborhoods where a significant wealth transfer occurred. One should also note that, most of these transactions were compliant with the laws, yet the buildings were sold below their actual value due to the heavy tax burden imposed on non-Muslims and their immediate emigration from Turkey. Consecu­tively this contributed to the ability of the new Anatolian residents to be house-owners for relatively lower prices.

10Under the light of the interviews, we singled out the Anatolian immigrants into two catego­ries, such as the early and latecomers. We call the people who came to Elmadağ with some sort of capital in early 1950s ‘the winners of the massive migration’. The winners generally worked as drivers when they first came to the city and after they accumulated the required capital, they became small-scale retailers of Elmadağ, such as butchers and grocers. Then they continued their ways as building contract­ors and real estate agents as their economic cap­ital has increased. The reasons behind the rapid economic upward mobility of this group can be explained by the macro dynamics, such as the departure of the non-Muslim community and the liberal policies followed by the govern­ments of the era. Not only did the Anatolian immigrants buy the properties of non-Muslims at a lower value but they also benefited from opportunities put forward by governmental policies such as the incentives for constructing buildings and roads. In this respect, the 1950s and early 1960s, also the 1980s later on, are often declared as ‘the golden era’ in terms of their economic advancement. Likewise, Mende­res and Özal represent the two ‘holy’ figures for the successful pioneer immigrants who were able to utilize the rapid upward mobility oppor­tunities of the postwar economic boom era. The correspondence between macro transforma­tions that the country has passed through and the stories of the first immigrants is very illumi­nating in the sense of comprehending the micro repercussions of the liberal politics followed by several Turkish governments.

11On the other hand, the latecomers were unable to be as successful as their predecessors. The reasons of their being losers is related to their immigration to the city without any capi­tal or the lack of new opportunities which had already been exploited by the early comers. Interestingly, 10 years of time lag of their immi­gration and lack of even a small amount of money seem a lot in fulfilling a success story in the city. The latecomers, or losers of the immi­gration, are still working in low-income jobs (such as doormen) in Elmadağ without showing any clue of an upward mobility. The economic differentiation between these two groups also reflects to their spatial segregation regarding to the fact that the latecomers mostly live in the lower side of Elmadağ in very old houses.

12A relatively invisible social component of Elmadağ is the Armenians who came from Anatolia with the massive rural-to-urban migra­tion wave in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike the other non-Muslim inhabitants who have already ‘promoted’ themselves by moving to better neighborhoods and unlike ‘the winners of mas­sive migration’ who arrived to Elmadağ almost in the same years, the Armenian emigrants from Anatolia could not move up the socio-economic ladder and get stuck in Elmadağ. Their lack of ambition for economic success and their efforts to be invisible in public sphere seem to be relat­ed to the somber memory of Wealth Tax or 6th-7th September Events.

13Kurdish immigrants who came to Elmadağ after the mid-1980s illustrate different charac­teristics from the Anatolian immigrants of 1950s in the sense that most of them left their hometowns because of political reasons, not of seeking for an economic prosperity. Given the fact that the Kurdish immigrants in Elmadağ immigrated to the city with a certain amount of money and afterwards turned this money into a certain form of property, mostly owning a gro­cery, their economic accomplishment in the city has more or less been achieved. In this sense, they are generally in better condition in comparison to the other Kurds dwelling in Tarlabaşı who mostly pursue a life under the conditions of survival. Although most of the interviewed ones in Elmadağ expressed their yearning for returning back to their hometowns as soon as possible, their possession of real estates in the neighborhood shows that they would be the ones who stay in Elmadağ in the long run.

14Most of the international immigrants in Elmadağ are from North Iraq and nearly all of them are Catholic Chaldeans who actually left their countries because of political and eco­nomic reasons. The presence of the Caritas organization in the location is the underlying factor in their selection of Elmadağ in Istanbul for their temporary stay. Nearly all of the inter­national immigrants claimed that they have been waiting for the results for their official applications. This shows their definite decision of leaving Turkey if their application is accept­ed by a third country. Yet, their long waiting periods in Turkey have all forced them to work illegally under the conditions of survival and exploitation.

15This highly mixed social environment in Elmadağ corresponds with a spatial differenti­ation in the neighborhood. As in the past, in parallel to the topography of the neighborhood, the social and economic status of inhabitants decrease from upper to lower streets of the neighborhood. The streets closer to the Cum­huriyet Street (like Ölçek and Babil Streets) are mostly inhabited by better-off groups in com­parison to ones living in the streets closer to Dolapdere (such as Küçükbayır and Harbiye Çayırı Streets). The socioeconomic distinction between the inhabitants of Elmadağ represents itself in the spatial segregation of the neighbor­hood given the fact that nearly all of the margi­nalized groups such as Gypsies, Kurds and transit immigrants are living in the lower streets next to Dolapdere.

  • 131 There is one single mosque in Elmadağ which has been “createdˮ in an apartment on Babil Street by p (...)

16It is clear that the very heterogeneous char­acter of Elmadağ arising out of the incessant immigration flows of people seems one of the most important obstacles for the constitution of Elmadağ as a community based neighborhood. Yet we claim that not only the heterogeneous character of the ethnic groups living together in Elmadağ but more importantly the diversity and differentiation within the ethnic groups is fundamental in strengthening the non-commu­nity tendencies of Elmadağ. In other words, the existence of different social and economic fractures within the supposedly same ethnic groups in Elmadağ have always intersected with each other preventing a strong establish­ment of a community feeling. In this respect, even the establishment of several ethnic en­claves within the neighborhood seems impossi­ble since the massive departure of non-Muslim communities in the 1960s. Therefore the feeling of belongingness to a neighborhood arising out of some kind of a human association among different groups of people does not exist in Elmadağ. Two different examples clearly illus­trate this argument. Unlike the firm social net­works of the previous non-Muslim community in Elmadağ, the Muslim immigrants have not established their own local organizations, which generally function as the meeting places for social interaction and solidarity131. The second example is from the Kurdish immigrants who do not necessarily form social ties with other Kurds but people sharing the similar political thoughts. On the contrary, many of the politi­cized Kurds have disapproving ideas about some other Kurds whom they define as ‘apoliti­cal’ or “assimilated” in Turkish society.

17As we mentioned above also the ethnic and religious differences among the groups create a barrier for the integration of the neighborhood as a community. Kurds, Gypsies, international immigrants (especially the ones coming from the African countries) are the ones blamed for the decadence of the neighborhood by most of the old inhabitants. Many times in several con­versations, we came across these complaints about the presence of these groups dwelling in Elmadağ. Sometimes this restless feeling on the side of both Muslim and non-Muslim inhabit­ants latently showed itself in the nostalgia of the past good days of the neighborhood and some­times it manifested itself explicitly by directly accusing the Kurds/Gypsies/Africans in mess­ing up the peaceful atmosphere of the neigh­borhood. Yet, the cultural discrimination against these marginalized groups though reflecting itself plainly in the spatial segregation, do not turn into an explicit hatred or tension among the groups. Ironically, the weak ties among the inhabitants of the neighborhood turns into an advantage preventing any kind of tension between these groups.

18The only neighborly relations among the groups of inhabitants in Elmadağ seem to be occurring among the Iraqi immigrants. With a few exceptions among the old inhabitants of the neighborhood, we can generalize the idea that the single tie connecting the inhabitants each other has been gaining more and more a commercial character. In the neighborhood, human association is tied up with commercial bonds (or money economy as Simmel puts it) among the dwellers who have ran shops, real estates or involved in construction business. They all have been dependent on each other economically, which in a way make them con­trol and hide their ‘real’ feelings about other inhabitants. In brief, commercial ties prevent any kind of tangible tension among the inhabit­ants.

  • 132 This is the case when the dwellers of Arif Paşa Manor have decided to initiate a civil society unde (...)

19On the other hand, transit dwellers, such as bobos, single wage earners and university stu­dents as well as the international immigrants lack any kind of feeling of belongingness to the neighborhood. Their temporary stay makes Elmadağ a neighborhood that is neither taken care of nor supported as a community-neighbor­hood, which has been realized in the cases of Cihangir, Arnavutköy and Kuzguncuk. These groups really care about the neighborhood as long as their interests are at stake132.

20As we mentioned before, Elmadağ has been getting more and more a neighborhood of depar­ture. Moving out of this location has become a major motive for several inhabitants. After accu­mulating the necessary economic capital and ensuring the cultural assets, most inhabitants prefer to move to other neighborhoods. Among the people who have immigrated or moved to Elmadağ since the 1980s, or let’s say new resi­dents, only the Kurds plan to live in Elmadağ in the long run. All the other new residents intend to leave the neighborhood as soon as they supply the necessary requirements. On the other hand, among the old inhabitants, only the Ana­tolian immigrants seem to stay in Elmadağ since they still earn their livings through run­ning business in Elmadağ. In particular almost all non-Muslims who have stayed in Elmadağ because of financial difficulties desperately want to move to other neighborhoods as soon as they supply the money needed for their depar­ture. In brief, Kurdish immigrants and Anatoli­an immigrants of the 1950s seem to be the ‘real’ inhabitants of Elmadağ in the long run.

21In order to make projections about the future of Elmadağ, it is necessary to take into account the historical luggage of the neighborhood. Although Cihangir, Kurtuluş, Teşvikiye, Tarla- başı, and Elmadağ have more or less similar founding stories, today they are quite different from each other. While Cihangir and in a lesser degree Teşvikiye-Nişantaşı are now two of the few gentrified neighborhoods of Istanbul, Tarlabaşı has become a slum inhabited by the new urban poor of Istanbul. Kurtuluş is still keeping its non-Muslim residential area charac­ter, though it is not anymore exclusively reserved for Greeks. What is the explanation of these differing outcomes in these adjacent neigh­borhoods? We believe that the explanation is grounded on the interaction of social and spa­tial factors. For instance, the settlement of well- educated, westernized middle class immigrants from Thessaloniki during the turn of the centu­ry to Teşvikiye-Nişantaşı endorsed the preser­vation of its prestigious status. Cihangir, which was ruined and destitute for long years, has been gentrified in the 1990s thanks to its close­ness to Taksim-Beyoğlu area, and the re-discov­ery of its undamaged historical buildings and scenery by the artists, intellectuals and academ­ics. Meanwhile Tarlabaşı has become more and more desolate since its connection with Taksim was cut off after the widening of the Tarlabaşı Boulevard during Dalan’s term.

22Elmadağ neither preserved nor improved its high social standing and historical architectur­al value, since it has become a magnet mainly for low-educated and low-income immigrant groups. Besides, unlike Cihangir or Teşvikiye, which are both located on relatively secluded niches, Elmadağ (being situated on the main axis between Taksim and Mecidiyeköy) has always been affected from the transformations of Cumhuriyet Street. This has also been influ­ential in increasing the business tendencies in the neighborhood and the squeezing of the already tight housing supply as the amount of land devoted for offices augmented. All these factors have led to decrease the appeal of Elmadağ as a residential area and the fleeing away of middle class families with children.

23One of the possible alternatives for the future of Elmadağ seems to be gentrification. However, once more the history of the neigh­borhood seems to be decisive in shaping its future. One of the obstacles against gentrification in Elmadağ is its land property structure. Except the large land owned by the Surp Agop Foundation on the southern edge of the neigh­borhood and the one where the Vatican embassy is located, all the rest of the neighborhood is based on very small parcels of land. The effect of this land pattern showed itself in the build- and-sell activities of the 1970s and 1980s: contractors were obliged to buy the property of at least a few houses to build a new one. This building contracting activities resulted in the actual patchwork pattern where a five-story inelegant new apartment stands just next to an old, picturesque, three-story stone house built on 40-50 square meter ground surface. The destruction of the original architectural style of the neighborhood due to the build-and-sell activities is an impediment for a potential gentrification movement in Elmadağ. A renovation can now only be realized in the large parcel of land owned by Surp Agop Foundation, which includes the row houses on the Elmadağ Street and the terrain where Şan Theatre was once located. Indeed, the recent changes in the law about the minority foundations can open the way for the Surp Agop Foundation to sell its land to the big construction companies which have already been eagerly waiting for building a large shop­ping and entertainment center there.

24In this study, we tried to shed light on the social and spatial transformations of a particular frag­ment of urban space in Istanbul. In conjunction with some common social patterns, such as the massive rural-to-urban migration, that apply to every neighborhood, we also tried to identify the processes giving different shapes to Elma­dağ. We hope that this study can contribute for a future multi-faceted comparative analysis of Istanbul.


131 There is one single mosque in Elmadağ which has been “createdˮ in an apartment on Babil Street by putting an aluminum minaret on the roof of the building. Although most of the Muslim inhabitants define themselves as “religiousˮ persons, they lack the willingness to get organized to build a realˮ mosque in Elmadağ.

132 This is the case when the dwellers of Arif Paşa Manor have decided to initiate a civil society undertaking against a project proposing to construct a commercial center just the opposite side of their building, which would def­initely spoil the view of Arif Paşa dwellers. Yet, during our interviews we realized that the interest of Arif Paşa dwellers in the neighborhood is very much restricted to the Arif Paşa Manor and they are not even aware of some basic facts about the neighborhood.

© Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 2004

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