Istanbul City Profile
- Stephanie Wu

Istanbul - A city full of contrasts. East and West, past and future, old and new, rich and poor. As urbanisation progresses, there is a group of people that struggles to catch up with the fast moving pace of the rest of the city. Once in a while, they would ask themselves:

Where is the Istanbul that We have been Dreaming of all along?

What is the purpose of urbanisation if it cannot even provide citizens with basic shelter and ensure their safety?

A Poverty Investigation

Gazi kids on the streets of Istanbul.

Where is ISTANBUL??

Background and Overview

History of Istanbul and Poverty in Istanbul

Being the largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is Turkey’s economic, historical, and cultural centre that has a rough population of 14.4 million. Istanbul is an intercontinental city located in the northwestern part of Turkey, and spans across the continents of Europe and Asia, which is divided by the Bosphorus Strait in between. Due to its strategic position along the Silk Road and between Europe and Asia, as well as being the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been a flourishing city since the 13th century. Established by Constantine the Great, Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire until the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and was known as Constantinpole back then The Ottomans transformed Constantinpole from a Christian city to an Islamic city, and built quite a lot of religious buildings within the city (“Istanbul”).

At the start of the 19th century, an uprising against the Ottoman lead to the Tanziment period, the starting of a series of reformation within the nation. The main goal of the reform is to allow non-Turks and non-Muslims in the Empire to have equal civil right as Turks (“Tanzimat”). Modern facilities are built, and the infrastructure of the city is significantly improved. At the start of the 20th century, the Young Turk Revolution and a series of wars resulted in the decline of Constantinpole. Britain, France and Italy occupied Constantinpole during the World War I. After the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the Republic of Turkey was legally recognized, and the occupation ended. Ankara was selected as the country’s new capital, to distance itself from its Ottoman history. However Istanbul still remained to be the biggest city in Istanbul (“Istanbul”).

Istanbul went through an infrastructural reform during the 1940s and 1950s. New roads and public recreational areas are built, and historical buildings are expended. The population of Istanbul began to rise in the 1070s due to migration from the nearby Anatolia area, in search for employment opportunities. This results in a dramatic increase in the city’s population, and hence increasing housing demands. As a result, factories and public housing are built at the suburbs of the city, which expanded the Istanbul metropolitan area to the nearby villages and towns (“Istanbul”).

This website will provide a closer inspection on the situation of poverty in the city of Istanbul. We will explore on the current situation, the measures being taken by the government, and will also provide a close examine on the effectiveness of the measures. A personal judgment will also be included in the form of suggestions to the government. Hope that his site will give you a deeper insight into the situation of poverty in Istanbul!

Investigation Questions

What is the situation of poverty in Shanghai and Istanbul, and what are the issues and challenges faced by people living under poverty?

Sub-question 1: What is the housing situation of people living under poverty in Istanbul?

Sub-question 2: What are some of the existing measures to deal with poverty carried out by governments?

Sub-question 3: Why do people become homeless / poor?


1. Create a relevant, clear and focused research question, and 3 sub questions focusing on different aspects of the issue.

2. Identify sources that provide general background information of Istanbul, its culture and history. Examine aspects of the sources that are relevant to the topic.

3. Identify sources that provide specific information on the situation of poverty in Istanbul, which describes the causes, consequences of poverty, and what is being done to solve the issue. Examine the effectiveness of such methods.

4. Search for interviews of homeless people, and thus examine the nature of the problem according to their responses.

5. Find and examine relevant sources on the website of Istanbul Department of Housing and Urban Development.

6. Find and examine relevant photos and diagrams that allow me to gain a deeper insight into the situation of poverty in Istanbul.

7. Find and examine relevant maps that allow me to gain a deeper insight into the situation of poverty in Istanbul. This can be done by looking at the distribution of settlement, the land terrain, transportation networks and public amenities.

8. Analyze patterns and trends in data, and provide suggestions as to what can be done to solve the issue in the future.

9. Document all sources using the MLA format.

Sources of Background Information on Istanbul

Source 1: Istanbul: A City of Global Cultural Importance? by the Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs(“Istanbul: A City of Global Cultural Importance?”) This source provides information of the important role culture plays throughout the development process of Istanbul, as well as the transition from local culture to global culture as Istanbul develops into a global city. Istanbul has been an important cultural centre for many different civilizations in the past due to its geographical location, where the east meets and west, and how its transmission into global culture has been accelerating after the cold war. Over the past few years, Istanbul has been trying to rebuild its transportation system, and constantly coming up with socio-economic policies. I think this source is helpful because it helps me to gain an insight into the past and present of Istanbul, particularly the recent history of Istanbul, as well as what still needs to be done to improve the current situation. This would help me to have an overview of the current situation of the city, some of the problems and challenges that it is dealing with, and some of its current struggles.

Source 2: The Istanbul section of Turkey Travel Guide has quite a lot of information on the history, attractions and culture of Istanbul from tourists’ point of view (“Turkey for You”). It also talks about the importance of Istanbul as the largest city in Turkey, as well as the business and culture centre of the nation. This source is relevant to my investigation because information regarding hotels and accommodation of Istanbul is also provided, which reflects the standards of living in the city.

Source 3: The page of Shanghai vs. Istanbul by Shanghai squared compares the difference between Shanghai and Istanbul. Shanghai is a thriving cities filled with skyscrapers and opportunities, cheap street snacks but is really crowded; Istanbul is a city with a lot of historical sites who has a great respect for animals, even though its metro system is more insufficiently developed compared to Shanghai. It is interesting to see how different culture result in the difference between the two cities. This website is relevant because it provides of the standard of living in Shanghai and Istanbul: Shanghai is relatively cheaper, even though the two cities are similar in a sense that they only started developing rapidly recently. Hence the infrastructure is not able to handle the increasing population and their increasing needs. Congestion, as a result, is problem faced by both cities as a result of insufficient metro systems.

Sources on the Situation of Poverty and Homeless in Istanbul

Source 1: The Borgen project has conducted a poverty investigation in Istanbul, which reveals life in some of the poorest districts in Istanbul, Gazi, Mahallesi and Karayollari. Most of them are multi-ethnicity neighbourhood or neighbourhood of ethnic minorities, who migrated to the city. It also talks about poverty caused by the lack of infrastructure: 70% of housing in Istanbul was built in the last 30 years (“Poverty in Istanbul”). Some of the poor people face the chance of being evicted. Poverty is aone of the huge issues in Turkey. Rapid migration into the city results in problems such as lack of time to build proper housing for everyone. This website allows me to gain insight into the complicated cause of poverty in Istanbul, as well as its current situation and impacts. This source is relevant because it provides detailed and comprehensive information and analysis on the poverty situation in Istanbul.

Source 2: An article on the website of Oxford Martin School talks about how people survives extreme poverty in the Golden Horn area of Istanbul. The article stated that the government sees poverty as a temporary problem rather than a structural problem, and that all they do providing financial aid (“The power of the powerless – surviving extreme poverty in Istanbul’s Golden Horn”). I find the stance of the government of Istanbul similar to that of the government of Shanghai, but experience has proved that money cannot solve all problems. The poverty of issue requires a long-term plan that addresses all aspects of the problem in order to be tackled. This might be able to explain the serious situation of poverty in Istanbul. In addition, the article also shows NGOs’ failure to address the issue of poverty in Istanbu. Since this source is from the University of Oxford, it is reliable to be used.

Source 3: Today’s Zaman is a website that provides statistics on the situation of poverty in both Istanbul and Turkey. It is stated that around 1% of Istanbul currently lives below the poverty line, which is around 14000 people – not a small number (“16 percent of Turkey’s population under poverty line”). In addition, this figure is also higher than the previous year, and hence is expected to continue to increase in the future. This source is reliable because it is supported by many detailed and relevant figures and statistics on the situation of poverty in both Istanbul and Turkey.


This image shows a Gazi mother with her two children in a slum area in Istanbul. Indeed Istanbul is a city full of immigrants from both people all over the country, as well as Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, and Arab refugees (“Where is Istanbul?”).Being refugees they are usually poor and cannot afford proper housing in the city, and thus have no choice but to live in shanty slum. These people are usually not covered in the government’s social welfare system, and are thus generally poorer than other Turkish people.

This map shows the whole of Istanbul metropolis. As seen from the map below, the west side, which is the “European side” of the river is more developed, as seen from the high density of building networks, while the east side of the river, which is the “Asian side”, is relatively less developed. When I was on my trip to Turkey, I also discovered that poor districts tends to locate on the “Asian side” of Istanbul. Only 3% of Turkey is on the continent of Europe, while the rest is located in Asia.

The map above provides a satellite view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait. The European, Thracian side, is located on the left of Bosphorus Strait, while the Asia, Anatolian side, is located on the right. It can be seen from the map above that the European side along the coastline is more developed, as seen from the cluster of houses, indicating high population density. The Asian side that is close to the Bosphorus Strait is fairly developed, but the terrain is hillier towards the north. From the fact that the European side takes up most of this satellite, it can be inferred that the European side of Istanbul plays a relatively more important role in terms of economy. This might be due to the fact that this area is closer to the rest of Europe, which is more economically developed. In fact there is quite a lot of migration from the Anatolian (Asian) side of Turkey to the Thracian (European) side. This kind of rural-urban migration results in a rapid increase in urban population, and problems such as housing these people and providing them with jobs arises. This is one of the causes of poverty in Istanbul.


("How to settle down in Istanbul")

The photo above shows one of the poor districts in the city of Istanbul. As seen from the picture, the houses are old and shabby, with watermarks on walls and trash lying around the place. The structure of the house in front is starting to fall apart, and the bricks on the roof seems to be falling off. The buildings are clustered close together, which might be a result of lack of space. The residents are likely to be very poor, who as a result cannot financially afford to repair their house or buy a new one. It is pretty surprising to see such a shabby area around the new apartments (blue and white) seen at the back.

("Where is Istanbul?")

The Picture above shows a Gazi mother with her two children walking across a slum area in Istanbul, which suggests that this area may be home to the ethnic minorities of Turkey. Indeed Istanbul is a city full of immigrants from both people all over the country, as well as Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, and Arab refugees (“Where is Istanbul?”).Being refugees they are usually poor and cannot afford proper housing in the city, and thus have no choice but to live in shanty slum. These people are usually not covered in the government’s social welfare system, and are thus generally poorer than other Turkish people.

This photo shows a kid covering his eyes and looking away in desperation from the slum district that he is living in. All that can be seen in the photo are broken concretes, bricks, and other building materials. There are quite a lot of people in this picture, who are probably a big family: they might have immigrated from other parts of the country judging from their large size They seem to have lost their home, yet they do not seem to have the slightest idea of what they should do. Such slum districts are quite common in Istanbul; characterised by the large amount of residents and the shabby houses.

Quantitative Data

To have a quick glance at the situation of poverty in Istanbul and Turkey, the table below shows the GDP per Capita of Turkey from 1975 to 1998, compared to the United States, United Kingdom, as well as its neighbouring country Greece. GDP per Capita allows for a relatively fairer comparison in terms of GDP, as compared to GDP itself.

As of 2013, the GDP per Capita for the United States, United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey are as follows:

As seen from the table above, it can be seen that the GDP per capita of Turkey has been growing from 1975, showing that the standard of living of individuals have been increasing since then. However, there is still a quite wide gap between the GDP of Turkey and countries like US and UK, as well as its neighbouring countries. This indicates that Turkish people during that period of time people are relatively poorer than other parts of the world. Comparing the results of Table 1 to Table 2, which shows the recent GDP per capita of the four countries, it can be noticed that there is a narrower gap between the GDP per Capita of Turkey and other countries. Hence the narrower gap is a good indicator of the fact that the standard of living in Turkey is catching up with the rest of the world.

In order to make a better visualization of the poverty rate of Istanbul, a graph showing the change in poverty rate of Istanbul from 2006 to 2013 has been constructed below:

From the graph above, it can be noticed that there is a decreasing trend in the poverty rate of Istanbul since 2006: a 4.7% decrease from 2006, which is definitely a good sign for the efforts of striking poverty.

Qualitative Data

More insights have been gained after connecting with the website of an organisation by the name of The Borgen Project, which allowed me to gain a more thorough understanding of the situation of poverty in Istanbul in the neighbourhood of ethnic minorities.

The Borgen Project is a non-profit organisation that investigates poverty in different areas around the world, aiming to raise public awareness on the issue. It describes Istanbul as a multi-ethnical city: “Istanbul is one of the more diverse cities in Turkey. It is home to not only Turks, but also Kurds, the Romani people and immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Africa. While the tourist and central areas seem modern, safe and progressive, there is another side of the city.” (“Poverty in Istanbul”).

The organisation visited two poor neighbourhoods that are only about an hour away from the city centre: Gazi Mahallesi and Karayollari. The neighbourhoods is home to anti-government groups, Kurdish, and leftist groups, and is full of destruction left from riots. Kurdish people are the largest group of ethnic minority in Turkey. Many of them left Southeasten Turkey, which has a concentration of Kurdish population. Residents of the neighbourhoods suffer from poverty and unemployment, and are constantly under the threat of violence. Rapid migration has led to the mass construction of houses in Istanbul: about 70 percent of the buildings were only built in the past 30 years without much urban planning. The make-shift neighbourhoods built by immigrants were first accepted during the 1980s, however they are now forced to be evicted due to the need to modernize the city. As a result, poor families are forced to reside to violent neighbouhoods of Istanbul. There are also notable number of cases of families who just settled down in a new neighbourhood from being evicted, and are evicted yet again (“Poverty in Istanbul”).


“Overall poverty in Turkey is a diminishing problem. … In Istanbul, the percent of people living in poverty has decreased 2.2 percent over the last eight years. The government claims that this reduction is due to government support programs to poorer citizens.”

“Amnesty International reported that these people were ‘living in conditions of extreme poverty since their forced eviction’ and was ‘without access to…electricity, clean water and basic sanitation.’”

“Istanbul is a microcosm of this map: minority neighborhoods are generally far worse off than primarily Turkish neighborhoods.”

Explanation and Analysis

Poverty in Turkey is often believed to be a result of rural-urban migration, which leads to the emergence of certain areas in the city as poor areas. As noticed from Table 4 above, it can be seen that the majority of poor household has 7 or more people. Thus it can be inferred that since people living in rural areas tend to have more kids and have a larger family, as the cost of living is relatively lower, the poor urban household with a size of around 7 people might have migrated from rural areas. Being unfamiliar with the new environment, and relatively poorly educated, they might find it harder to find a job with high pay. Yet the cost of living for 7 people in the city can be quite high. Thus these families are more likely to end up in poverty.

Poverty has been a huge challenge for Istanbul for the past few decades. According to the data collected above, it can be seen that poverty is mainly caused by the significant wealth disparity between the Turkish people and other ethnic minorities. The ethnic minorities usually face discrimination in the area that they originally live in, and hence moved to Istanbul in search for new career opportunities, as well as  to start a new life. However they moved to Istanbul without financially able to access to proper housing, and so they chose the cheaper option of make-shift houses. This puts them under the threat of being evicted when the city is going through an infrastructural change, and they often had no choice but to reside to a poorer and more dangerous neighbourhood. This leads to an even worse situation of poverty.

The government regards poverty as a temporary problem, rather than a long-term problem. They believe that an individual's family or religion should support them with such problems (“The power of the powerless – surviving extreme poverty in Istanbul’s Golden Horn”). However there is a very complicated root to this issue. In fact poverty and unemployment are huge factors contributing to terrorism in Turkey every year. The Turkish Prime Minister has stated “While in the east our soldiers and police officers fought terrorism, [previous governments] did nothing about the poverty, unemployment and discrimination that terrorist groups abused. They shut their eyes to the migration to big cities while they were building shanty houses. Urban sprawl became places of abuse that hid terrorism,” (“The power of the powerless – surviving extreme poverty in Istanbul’s Golden Horn”). Therefore it can be seen that poverty in Turkey is mainly caused by the lack of government efforts to ensure that people who migrated to Istanbul are able to fully adapt to the environment, and are not encountering serious financial problems. Neither did the government help the population to solve the problem of housing after they were evicted from the original houses. The government should not allow shanty houses and slums to be built in the first place, for they are what lead to the vicious cycle of poor living conditions. Moreover, residents of such areas often become the victim of terrorism groups, and teenagers with no goal for life often become the target of such groups ("Criminalization of urban poverty by Turkish PM"). There is a clear connection between terrorism and unplanned urbanization.

Hence it can be seen that the unplanned urbanization of many areas in Istanbul has led to poverty and even terrorism. While the lack of policies to protect the rights of poor ethnic minorities has made them extremely prone to neighbourhoods filled with terrorism and violence. The good news is that the number of poor people in Istanbul has been declining. Through the course of the last 10 years, the number of people living on USD $4.50 in Turkey has been reduced from 20 million to 1.7 million. The number of poor people has decreased by 2.2 percent over the course of eight years (“Poverty in Istanbul”). This does show a positive side to the situation of poverty in Istanbul.

Looking into Future

While the government is making its efforts to strike poverty, supports can also be provided to organizations working to reduce poverty. More of such organizations should be set up, allowing the sharing information on how to buy necessities with a cheaper price, as well as how to get help from social workers or government organizations. More support groups can also be set up among ethnic minorities within the neighbourhood, providing a platform for the people who just resided to the neighbourhood to support each other, as well as for the people who have lived longer providing advices for people who just moved in.

In terms of suggestions to the government, I think the issue of poverty should be taken seriously, and effectives plans or policies to reduce poverty in the long-term should be introduced. An example of the possible plans would be to provide monthly subsidy for people with their monthly income lower than a certain level. Free or discounted technical courses can be provided to people who just moved to Istanbul, in order to equip them with the skills essential to make a living in Istanbul and adapt to the different lifestyles. With regards to forced eviction, I think that the government should at least make sure that residents who are evicted will have a stable housing elsewhere, which should be provided by the government for free. In fact the government can build public estates for these people, which prevents them from being forced to live in communities filled with violence and terrorism. Once they moved in, they might find themselves living with others they have a similar background as them. This also facilitates the establishment of immigrants’ communities in Istanbul to provide support for new comers. The government should also make a greater effort in striking terrorist organizations within neighbourhoods, as the only way to ensure a safe neighbourhood is to completely root the terrorists out.

Overall, from the statistics and data collected above, it can be noticed that the situation of poverty in Istanbul and the whole of Turkey has been declining tremendously in the past ten years. According to this trend, the poverty rates will continue to decrease in the future, which is definitely good news for Istanbul. The goal at the moment would be to try to reduce poverty as much as possible, by ensuring that poor citizens have access to proper housing, away from violence and terrorism. It is also important to ensure that ethnical minority groups receive equal rights as other Turkish citizens, and are not facing discriminations. Only then will Istanbul be able to eliminate poverty, and become a city of authenticity, resilience and inclusiveness.


"Criminalization of urban poverty by Turkish PM." Reclaim Istanbul. N.p.. N.d.. Web. 15 May 2015. <>

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“16 percent of Turkey’s population under poverty line.” Today’s Zaman. N.p.. 8 Jul 2014. Web. 6 May 2015. <>

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The Blue Mosque of Istanbul ("Gentside")

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