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The settlement of Baltalimani was built illegally by workers from three mines close to the Bosporus. These spontaneous settlements are known as gecekondus, which literally means "built overnight" (gece = night). Baltalimani was part of the Rumeli Hisari mahalle and only became an independent neighbourhood in 1997.

Rural migration to Istanbul started to accelerate in the early 1960s. Istanbul almost doubled its population in the following 20 years. The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was completed in 1988. The TEM Highway, linking Ataturk Airport to the Bosporus Bridge, was completed in 1987. Both accelerated urban development in this part of the city.

As house owners of squatter settlements do not have title deeds, there is a threat of evictions as the Istanbul Municipality implements new road projects. In the long run, the authorities also aim to replace gecekondus with new, better earthquake-protected flats..

In 2007 more than 450 houses in the two squatter settlements of Armutlu and Baltalimani were destroyed in order to construct a new road. The owners of the houses were paid YTL 12 Million (€ 6.3 Million) in compensation. 242 social housing units (council flats) were also built on the outskirts of Istanbul for resettlement purposes.

Baltalimani squatter settlement, partly destroyed for the TEM road

One part of Baltalimani which was not destroyed can still be found near the new road. This small settlement, which has less than 30 houses, has recently seen its fortunes improve as authorities invested in infrastructure, including new waste management, a modern playground, and sports facilities. For residents like Gazanfer Oygur, who recall living conditions from a decade ago, this is no less than an urban revolution.

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Story of a gecenkondu (in Turkish). © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

October 2008

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