RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


53 Scar-Cities: Middle East urbanisms between violent environments and disrupted governance (2)
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Nathan Marom (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel)
Chair(s) Nathan Marom (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract Middle East cities – and the wider regions and territories in which they are embedded – present a distinct constellation of socio-environmental disparities and socio-political inequalities. These often feed into processes of political instability and governance ‘failures’ and are challenged by practices of insurgency and periodic occurrences of revolt or militarized conflict. In other words, Middle East urbanisms seem to manifest unique relations and tensions between material-environmental scarcities (of food, water, energy etc.) and an ‘abundance’ of conflict, which can range in scale from the micro-political to the geo-political: tensions over the distribution and daily use of water in thirsty neighborhoods, food shortages and ‘bread riots’ erupting from markets to streets, energy disruptions which activate urban unrest, militarized campaigns that ‘switch off’ essential life-supporting infrastructures, up to full blown wars over oil and other natural resources. Cities throughout the region – Aleppo, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Damascus, Diyarbakir, Gaza, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ramallah, A-Raqqa, Sana’a and Tunis – all bear scars, which speak of material shortages, disrupted governance and violent environments.
This session hopes to draw two threads – environments and governance – into a productive discussion of the urban Middle East. It aims to interrogate contemporary Middle East urbanisms through several concurrent and related phenomena: the scarcity of environmental resources and susceptibility of urban infrastructures, the deficit and disruption of civic governance, and the proliferation of political turbulence manifested in urban space. It seeks papers that interrogate the distinct constellation of Middle Eastern ‘scar cities’ through an urban political ecology perspective, informed by ethnographic, sociological or historical research and engaged with diverse geographical imaginations. More generally, the session aims to place Middle East cities – positioned geographically and historically between Europe, Africa and Asia – firmly within current debates on global urbanism, bridging global South and global North perspectives.
Linked Sessions Scar-Cities: Middle East urbanisms between violent environments and disrupted governance (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Heating scarcity: natural gas and the politics of unjust energy transition in Istanbul
Elvan Arik (Triangle (UMR 5206), Lyon, France)
Since the mid-2000s, the development of natural gas heating infrastructures in the outskirts of Istanbul is supposed to extent socio-spatial access to technical progress by delivering domestic comfort and materialize the political inclusion of previously marginalized areas. This process of modernizing heating practices takes different forms. On the one hand, the spread of the natural gas network in informal housing neighborhoods provides poor people the chance to connect to network utilities and to access to an abundant and centralized source of heat by installing natural gas stove or individual boiler. On the other hand, collective housing projects, designed for the middle classes, include innovative collective heating solutions to improve energy efficiency in buildings. In both cases, these material transformations are sources of vulnerability for people who encounter multiple difficulties and challenges in order to use sufficient and affordable heat. When heating bills are too high, technical problems accumulates and when people do not have alternatives to switch to any other heating systems, the unbearable situation leads to street demonstrations where people makes claim for justice.
Based on a fieldwork carried out in two neighgborhoods situated in Istanbul peripherical territories, this paper aims at understanding the mecanisms which produce these unjust thermal situations by taking into account the sociotechnical reconfigurations of natural gas infrastructures, the transformation of daily heating practices and the urban politics that govern them in a context of violent and intensive reorganization of urban spaces. To build an analytical framework, I mobilized a sociological corpus on “energy practices theory” that I articulated with urban political ecology approaches in order to reveal the origins and the forms of social injustices embedded in the new metabolism of Istanbul metropolis.
From a “global” to a “scar” city: Politics of fear and everyday life in Istanbul
Mine Eder (Boğaziçi University, Turkey)
Özlem Öz (Boğaziçi University, Turkey)
Despite its particularities and as recent as 2015, Istanbul appeared to be on a fast track to become a “global city” with its glitzy shopping malls, bustling tourists, hotels, booming night life and entertainment, and a huge construction growth. As is typical in neoliberal cities, the city had already begun to suffer from increased commodification, gentrification, and deepening inequalities. In 2017, however, Istanbul is a different city, with only a few tourists roaming, hotels and shops going out of business, once booming entertainment locales mostly empty and housing market on the brink of collapse. Why has the city proved so fragile and vulnerable? An extraordinary combination of a rapid economic downturn following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, coupled with the escalating violence both over the Kurdish question, Syrian conflict and ISIS, which turned the city into a significant target for urban attacks, have clearly and literally proved “deadly” for Istanbul.

Building on these macro explanations, this paper explores the micro processes through which the city has turned not only into a “scar–city” but also a “scarred” city, scarred with fear and withdrawal. We argue that declining number of tourists, increasing desertion of city’s public spaces, and anxiety over “going out,” have considerably dimmed the everyday life in the city. Escalating political polarization and consequent anxieties have also spilled into neighborhoods and everyday life, reinforcing already existing ethnic, political and class-based segregations in the city.
Remaking Istanbul through Old & New Wounds: Governance, Infrastructure & the Visions of Empire
Ryan Centner (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Amid increasing regional upheaval in recent years, Istanbul has continued to grow, with unprecedented expansion of infrastructure, including transport and property development. Without bright economic horizons, this is the outcome of politicized maneuvers to promote the city, with a particular image of promise and success. This paper examines projects of creating a vision for Istanbul’s developmental boom, delving into how the city’s spatial and temporal relationship with the Middle Eastern region is pivotal. The notions of re-visioning and pre-visioning are presented to help understand the forging of this urban image, and its underbelly. “Re-visioning” captures how the city relates to its Ottoman legacy, painful for some, celebrated by others; “pre-visioning” points to how future-oriented development consciously contrasts to Gulf cities and other models of city growth in a new – perhaps imperious – vision of Turkish regional leadership. This all takes place in the context of a series of violent eruptions (terrorism, civil disobedience, and government repression), beginning in 2013, which also remake the city’s everyday geographies. In conversation with the “worlding cities” and imaginative geographies literatures, this paper analyzes three main cases of governing and developing infrastructure as dealing with old & new wounds to remake Istanbul: (1) the expansion of Istanbul’s metro system; (2) the creation – or re-creation – of new housing and commercial districts, from Bakırköy to Sulukule ; and (3) the relationship of a rebranded Turkish Airlines to the city. The paper shows how these visions of grandiosity mesh with the current moment of deeply felt uncertainty in Istanbul.
Disrupted Urbanism in the Time of Political Rupture in Diyarbakir
Muna Guvenc (University of Pittsburgh, USA)
Since the early 2000s, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Party (PDP, People’s Democratic Party) has successfully built powerful blocs of Kurdish supporters in many cities. PDP municipalities not only brought public services to the cities but also elevated the Kurdish identity in every possible service they established. Hence, a crucial factor in the success of the party was its ability to use urban resources extensively while bringing diverse local components—youth and women’s organizations, unions, grass roots, chambers, and urban traders and businessmen—together in the urban ground. Using its municipal power, the pro-Kurdish party has established strong ties both with the Kurdish capitalist class, through lucrative contracts and business-friendly urban projects, and with the urban poor, through community support centers, educational associations, and political centers associated with a new Kurdish national identity. Since then, the party appears to have successfully merged elements of both Kurdish nationalism and neoliberalism in the city.

On Oct. 25 2016, Turkish authorities detained Gultan Kisanak, the co-mayor of Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast region on charges of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Her co-mayor Firat Anli was also detained, joining thousands of other Kurdish activists and politicians who are being arrested for alleged links to the PKK. Soon after, Turkish authorities appointed a trustee to Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality. During the first week of his appointment, the appointed trustee Cumali Atila, fired 53 municipal employees from critical positions, abolished the Municipality theater, firing almost all of the artists and removed the monumental objects representing Kurdish history in front of the municipality. He further removed the Roboski monument which was erected by a local artist for the victims of the ‘Roboski Massacre’ in 2013. This paper discusses the disrupted governance of Diyarbakir and the proliferation of new political turbulence manifested in the city. It particularly focuses on the urban strategies of the new trustee aiming to dismantle the merged Kurdish groups and diminish the Kurdish identity from the city.