“Camps as Trans-Local Commons” by Pelin Tan — From the series Refugee Heritage conversations one-flux,July 2017

What trans-local commoning practices could exist between urbanized camps such as Dheisheh or Al-Fawar in Palestine and those recently established in Turkey? How can we redefine and experience the infrastructure of thresholds, commoning practices and methods of experimental heritage that emerge within them? And how might architectural and design pedagogies provide a common base for such understandings? Distinct geographical conditions, socio-political forces and uncommon histories make cumulative interpretation and analysis difficult. This uncommon knowledge is, however, exactly the way in which methodologies can be expanded and concepts redefined. The anachronistic forms of refugee camps lead us towards a new understanding of dwelling, one that is not grounded in practices of “empathy,” but rather of knitting the commons.

(…) Since 2013 I have run postgraduate design studios at the Architecture Faculty, Artuklu University, Mardin, in which we have documented and archived processes of self-organization and design in various camps, such as Calais, on the English Channel in France, to Al-Fawar and Pikpa in Lesvos, a Greek island 4km from the Turkish coast, and Midyat in Mardin, just 25km from the Syrian border in southwest Turkey. We have focused on the question of autonomous, interdependent infrastructures and commoning practices from an architectural perspective, which has led us to the camps’ heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Accompanied by a group of postgraduate students and David Harvey, I visited Dheisheh Refugee Camp in 2015 to run a workshop with Campus in Camps on the idea of “autonomous infrastructure.” Instead of basic forms of infrastructure like water or electricity, we focused primarily on solidarity, which we found to be closely linked to those more basic, material forms. One master’s student, urbanist Yildiz Tahtaci, drew a parallel between the Women’s Center and Square in Al-Fawar Refugee Camp and the women’s laundry center in Benusen, a neighborhood in Diyarbakir populated by Kurds who were forced to migrate from their villages in the 1990s and due to state-led urban development, might be forced to move again.¹ Tahtaci’s thesis was that despite their geopolitical difference, a comparison between structures of the commons can be made between recent Greek and Turkish camps and more urbanized and established ones in Palestine and Jordan.² Women from shared backgrounds like eviction and exile in both Al-Fawar and Benusen were creating threshold spaces where commons are practiced. Similarly, the kitchens, bathrooms and shared vegetable gardens we witnessed families organizing and designing during our two-year survey of Çınar camp in Diyarbakir had a parallel in Al-Fawar’s rooftop gardens.³ Thresholds function as a space of passage, a bridge that creates potentialities.⁴ Within threshold spaces such as refugee camps, detention centers or safe passages, localities are reproduced and commons are practiced through diverse social solidarities and imaginations in situations of supposedly temporary precariousness.⁵

(…) The camp is a vulnerable space. It is constituted by its thresholds and the exchanges that take place across it. It is a space of small economic initiatives and heterogenous commoning practices that subvert established concepts of heritage, urban, neighborhood and citizenship. It is thus something that should be not only physically protected but also institutionally valued. The documentation and archiving of temporary heritage, that which might not be recognized by a modernist approach to preservation, is therefore essential. Çınar camp was decommissioned and all of its inhabitants were transferred to Midyat, an official, AFAD, state-run camp in December 2016. The material we collected during our two-year survey is the only lasting documentation of the heterogenous commons that took place there.⁹ Producing a collective body of knowledge about refugee camps and the representation of their commoning practices is a vital part of heritage so that it may be shared and passed onto future generations.¹⁰

So... is this getting serious?

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