An ironic slogan for the development projects in Ismetpasa in October '19: “Ankara which is unifying with its history”
  • photography
  • non-fiction

Ismetpasa, Ankara, Turkey

Home in the times of precarity

by Erhan Muratoglu

Ismetpasa neighbourhood is a few steps away from the historical site that resides the Temple of Augustus and Hacibayram Mosque in Ankara.

We were carrying the conflicting feelings of nervousness and hopefulness on our shoulders on that very day when we went to Ismetpasa, in October 2019. Every other time we went there, we hoped to see the people we met on our previous visits. It was the uncertainty that was waiting for us in the neighbourhood, we were concerned to find out that some might have already moved away, we would not be able to find them anymore. Losing the possibility to listen to their fragments of lives in the neighbourhood.

Ismetpasa neighbourhood is a few steps away from the historical site that resides the Temple of Augustus and Hacibayram Mosque in Ankara. Dense with shops and other facilities built for its visitors, this site is overloaded, overexposed and overlapped with the reminiscent of the artifacts of thousands of years old civilizations. Unfortunately the site is exploited with heavy constructions that damaged the architecture overground and yet unexplored underground.

A detailed shot from the transformed area of Haci Bayram Camii in October 2019
A detailed shot from the transformed area of Haci Bayram Camii in October 2019

It was the same exploitation ran by the municipality which forced the people to leave their homes. After the local elections the corrupt Mayor lost his chair. His plan to invade the whole neighbourhood and build new shopping centers and offices is on hold now. Yet, the construction site is there, left abandoned, still lurking as a monster which threat to the neighbourhood.

A view to the transformation area just next to Ismetpasa, Oct. ’19
A view to the transformation area just next to Ismetpasa, Oct. ’19

Minem and I passed by the carcass of the construction site, just at the feet of the small hill Ismetpasa is dwelled upon. That very point is the place where we could meet the people we were looking for. It is a small area that’s left empty where residents gather together occasionally, sit and chat, even sell stuff on stalls. There is a small makeshift open air teahouse. The plastic chairs and tables sit on an inclined and uneven piece of soil where mostly old men sit, chat and watch the passersby. For many of the people there that day, we were the type of people that they don’t see there most of the times. Minem had a SLR camera hanging on her neck and we apparently didn’t look like the type of people usually come there to visit the religious sites, shops and stuff. Just in a second we found ourselves in a quarrel between the locals. Some old men on top of a tile covered roof of a small building were in discussion with some other old men down there, sitting next to the tea house, while some young men on the street making fun of the situation and telling us to take snaps of the guy up on the roof as a proof of an illegal activity.

Not only the intimate chat we found ourselves in, but the weather was spontaneous as well, at that moment. There came a gush of wind without any warning, dragged the clouds and brought some sudden rain, so we sat by the tea house and started a chat. Under the umbrellas that were barely blocking the rain falling on the tables and chairs, we sat with a group of old men, drank some tea and talked about many many things concerning their day lives and struggles in the neighbourhood. We were curious about the times when things were not as dire as the present time, thus we had the right bunch of people to talk to. To our amazement, the fit looking old guy started to convey his decades old memories, from the times that his family migrated from another city and settled there. He has been living there since then, resisting to dire situations whatsoever. On his mobile phone screen, he showed us many snaps, from his black-and-white id card photo from sometime around 1960s to his grandgrandchild who was born a couple of months ago. The only real concern he had seemed to have was with his grandsons and nephews who were having some legal troubles frequently and giving him worries constantly.

Later in that afternoon, after we had left the neighbourhood, Minem told me that, when we were talking with the old guy she had the feeling that she’s listening to one of the characters’ in Yaşar Kemal’s novels. That really fitted to illustrate the stories we listened to that sponaneous and surprising afternoon chat in Ismetpasa.

In the end of the day, we did not only learn about the thoughts and feelings of the residents about the current situation, but also started to grasp their strongly rooted ties to the neighbourhood. Yet, would that really help them resist to the conditions and stay in the place that they call home?

The original blogpost was created on the 20th March 2020, as part of reflections on our research for the graphic novel.