The neighborhood with the dodgiest reputation in Istanbul is Tarlabaşı. It’s right next to the main area of Taksim, but most locals avoid it like the plague. Mainly it’s a center for the Kurdish populations of Istanbul, and poor families share small, run-down spaces here that haven’t seen any maintenance for decades. Though it’s right in the center of everything, it’s almost a no-go zone, since it’s know as a haven for shady dealings.
After being here for a few months, and seeing a fair amount of Tarlabaşı, I can’t say that I would stroll in there on purpose. And even if I wander into Tarlabaşı by mistake, I’ll almost immediately know that I’ve crossed into this area. It’s mostly about the mood– it’s not very welcoming. People will just look at me like I don’t belong, and am bound to get in the way. And others’ smirks seem to say, “Haha, stupid girl, what are you doing here?! You’re asking for trouble.” I usually get uncomfortable and try to head back out as soon as possible. One of my least favorite things in the world is being looked at like I would be someone easy to take advantage of. But hey, Tarlabaşı is not the only place in Istanbul where those types of looks can occur– they are just really intense and overwhelming there.
Despite the bad reputation, and sometimes bad vibes, there are some redeeming factors. The buildings are so colorful, though they could use some repair work. Some of the best views from the posh terraces of Taksim are of the many rooftops of Tarlabaşı. Plus, there is a market here that has some of the best prices in the city. If you can stand the looks, there are a lot of interesting things to see.
I’m sure Tarlabaşı’s problems are real, but it’s clear that the biggest problem is discrimination. The Kurdish population is pushed around a lot, and they just have this one place to call their own. No one seems to want to go in or out. And even in this area, there are some building projects being started to clean up the neighborhood– i.e., push the marginalized populations further away from the main area. It seems that what’s forbidden isn’t this scary neighborhood– it’s the Kurds. And I think the hard feelings and hostility towards outsiders who enter the area has a lot to do with these tensions. As far as the crime rep, it can’t be so different from anywhere else here–I’ve experienced some bad things in the “family” neighborhoods of Istanbul, but never in Tarlabaşı. So I’m rooting for the neighborhood to gain a more positive image, or at least some understanding.