Feral (Im)mobilities

Essay, 2021


This text presents a selection of my encounters with feral animals in Istanbul. Illustrating the (im)mobilities that feral animals find themselves in, these encounters are not exhaustive and do not aim to be representative of feral experiences within or beyond Istanbul. Yet certain themes are shared: forced neutralization, forced adoption, forced displacement, forced labor; governance of animal bodies in various forms and scales.

***


On a university campus in Istanbul, at the Faculty of Architecture, students and professors are chasing cats. They are members of the university club for campus animals, with a dedicated task of neutralization. Some are carrying nets; others are holding boxes. Cats are running in all directions, terrorized and terrorizing. Everyone is exhausted, not only because of the never-ending chase, but also because of the people-pleasing, negotiating with those who have the power and privilege to demand, to draw territories, and to exclude. Earlier, some members of architecture faculty issued an anonymous letter declaring they demand these cats at the faculty to be removed, for they sleep on cardboards and Styrofoam, some of the most valuable currency in design studios, which are neatly used to communicate their dwelling ideas for, well, humans.

***


On Prince Islands, a crowd of 15 to 20 people are protesting in front of a fence. They make their press releases one after the other, with only a couple of horses visible behind the fences. Their neat, hand-written banners address the horse population of one thousand which once prevailed the Islands as transportation workers of local tourism at the service of those who wanted to get a glimpse of Istanbul’s commodified past. Protestors sound disappointed than angry and are concerned for hundreds of horses who are now missing:

We demand that the horses be brought back to where they belong, to their home, to the Prince Islands.

Months ago, pictures of overworked, exhausted horses were surfacing on social media. Activists’ voices were raising against horse-carriage tradition, demanding to abolish it. Welfarists thought that the working conditions of horses could be reformed, eliminating the need  of abolishment. The discussion revolved around what was problematized, technologies of animal oppression, and voices were either for or against. Little attention was paid on the well-being of the very bodies that were commodified and oppressed.

Today, horse carriages are gone. So are the horses.

Horses are displaced to places where they are captives as the commodities they were. To shelters. To other cities. To unknown.

***




In a district in Istanbul, missing pet posters embellish the walls next to graffiti and private tutor ads. Brief descriptions along with a photograph of the animal accompany the poster. Whenever I see these missing animal posters, I pause for a moment, and find myself reading carefully. I inevitably think about how the interspecies kinship between the human citizen and the cat can never be easily translated to some passer-by.

Possibly endless memories are found irrelevant, and probably time-consuming, considering time is a significant currency on streets where passers-by walk fast. These posters need to capture the attention and should provide the necessary information about the cat. Necessary, in this case, is not what makes the cat a person, or what gives it its unique personal character attributes, which many cat people would agree with. Cats, in these posters, are often reduced to their physical appearance, and their health status concerning neutralization. A full body picture of the cat is selected to emphasize just that. So that a passer-by who happens to randomly run into the missing animal would call the telephone number as usually suggested.

These posters feature cats who have made flats their homes, and humans their kin. Their proximity to the humankind marks the urgency of their missing. I am left thinking of those animals whose disappearances did not make it to a flyer. Lost in these thoughts, I take some pictures.

***


A narrow, idle backyard parts of which has no human access through nothing but windows, is a safe haven for birds amid the sounds of motorbikes whirring and cars honking on a street nearby. Pigeons and doves, but mostly pigeons, seem to take pleasure of the inaccessibility as they often times rest on the windowsills of the blocks rising around this tiny space. The ground plan, presumably divided between surrounding blocks on legal terms, is not level due to appropriations by fellow residents. The backyard is an eclectic combination of a garden, a terrace, and a roof, all of which are on different height levels making it all the more inaccessible not only for humans but also for the calico who frequently goes out on the roof through one of the windows only to go back in quickly. The red of the roof, which belongs to the diner on one of the blocks surrounding the backyard, is hardly recognized due to the yellow of the bird seeds abundantly thrown by a woman who routinely feeds the visiting birds.

As usual, the woman is placing bird seeds on her windowsill. Some birds are carefully observing, while some others are quick to fly to the windowsill knowing it is time to eat. The woman’s usual generosity spills over from the windowsill onto the roof in the backyard, and onto the two dead pigeons who have been lying on the roof for the past 2 months, with their chests wounded, and feathers scattered. The comments on the forum where I consulted concerned citizens still show no sign of consensus, but rather a plethora of speculations, as to the cause of deaths. Just like the birds, my post has lost its urgency, and is now forgotten among the news of animals whose lives can still be saved. I cannot help but think of the possible ways I would access this backyard and the time spent doing so, if this were a case of an alive animal in need, and not a dead one.

What was once a safe haven for the two pigeons to eat and to rest, is now a site of daily reminder, at least for me, of how ensuring animal justice is a question of built human environment and technologies of animal oppression, and how care inevitably delineates and invites counter-action.

***




Taşdizen, Burak. 2021. “Feral (Im)mobilities”. In Locomotion, ed. İpek Burçak, Berlin & Vienna: Well Gedact Publishing, pp. 40-48.




Find me at


Burak Taşdizen
Orient-Institut Istanbul
Susam Sokak 16, D. 8
TR—34433 Cihangir – Istanbul
phone +90—212—2936067 ext. 128
e-mail tasdizen@oiist.org


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