Gecekondu are informal settlements that have been at the heart of the rapid urbanisation of modern Turkey, especially in Istanbul and Izmir. Gecekondu squatting started in the 1940s as a need-oriented practice of poor rural migrants who needed cheap accomodation in Turkey's growing cities. Over time, gecekondu neighborhoods were legalized, and their dwellers became part of the urban middle class by erecting apartment buildings on their plots. In the 1980s, it became common to buy, and later to steal, privately owned agricultural land in order to construct apartment buildings on it. Appropriation was no longer geared towards need, but towards profit.
Appropriation of state-owned (agricultural) land was already a common practice in Ottoman times, and so was rural work migration to major cities, such as Istanbul and Izmir. In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and the Population Exchange with Greece, private property of Armenians and Greeks was appropriated and squatted by Muslims. This article argues that these historical precedents informed the way in which gecekondu dwellers legitimated their need-oriented appropriation of state land. With the arrival of neoliberalism, however, appropriation of state property no longer served to alleviate poverty, but became big business. Today, it is major real estate firms and the state-owned public housing authority (TOKI) that privatize state land in order to build gated communities for the upper middle class.
This article studies the application of laws regulating the settlement and compensation of
migrants who came to Turkey from Greece in the course of the population exchange. By
using petitions and administrative documents, it discusses the questions of legality and
legitimacy with regard to two problems: First, the status of exchangees as a group privileged
by law, and second, the bureaucratic procedure through which they were given temporary
property rights (tefvīż ). The article shows that laws can by no means be taken to be identical
with their application, and that various notions of legality and legitimacy were at play, both in
different state administrations and among those affected by their policies. It thus makes an
important contribution to a better understanding of the relationship between law, state and
society in early Republican Turkey.