Accepted paper:

Istanbul's Armenian Immigrants in Kumkapi: Embracing Global Discourses on East-West Divide, Ethnic Tolerance and Hospitality/ Commodifying Conflicting Images of Urban Landscape


Salim Aykut Ozturk (University College London (UCL))

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the context in which Kumkapi neighbourhood of Istanbul has become a stage to perform (a) Istanbul's unique position between the East and the West and (b) "tolerance" and "hospitality" towards Armenian immigrants in front of international tourist groups.

Paper long abstract:

Istanbul recently has become one of the top international travel destinations. With the booming tourist economy, hotels, art galleries and museums have mushroomed in the city centre. Kumkapi similarly has a central location in Istanbul's historical peninsula; however it does not follow the same fashion. It is one of the poorest neighbourhoods and home to the largest number of illegal and undocumented immigrants mostly from Armenia and other post-socialist countries. Nevertheless Kumkapi attracts many tourists. During the day, the main square is bustling with tourists who eat at the famous fish restaurants, visit historical churches and the Armenian Patriarchate. However, Kumkapi is also where tourists "find" demolishing houses, witness extreme poverty and encounter with immigrant street vendors. Moreover, Istanbul's prison for illegal and undocumented immigrants is at the heart of neighbourhood and the police have obvious visibility on the streets (Yet, almost no illegal or undocumented migrant has heard of getting arrested). Conflicting images of poverty and fancy restaurants, illegality and police control, specters of local Armenians and the presence of new Armenian immigrants help tourists "re-affirm" and "re-discover" Istanbul's liminal position between the East and the West, ancient and modern, arbitrary and legal, dirty and clean, and poor and rich. However, these images are results of not-so-random processes. Based on fieldwork, I argue that what Kumkapi offers to tourists should be analyzed as a product of certain political conjunctures. Moreover, I will also aim to demonstrate how imaginations of Istanbul-between-East-and-West and official discourses of "hospitality" and "tolerance" towards (ethnicized) transnational immigrants in Turkey are in tandem with global trends in branding cities as cosmopolitan. Yet, these also function as mechanisms of social exclusion that perpetuates the social (and legal) marginalization of immigrant populations at the heart of an enormous city.

panel MMM05
Commodifying urban poverty, social exclusion and marginalisation: spatial and social consequences (IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology)