Merve Bedir: We need to ask ourselves the possibility of a non-aligned movement today

Interview with the Turkish architect and urbanist on her perspectives and takeaway from the conference “Urban inequalities”, which took place in Sofia in the middle of June 2022

Merve Bedir is an architect and researcher. She holds a BA in architecture from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara/Turkey (2003) and a PhD from the Delft University of Technology/The Netherlands (2017). She is a co-founder of the Aformal Academy, Shenzhen/China and Hong Kong, Center for Spatial Justice in Istanbul, Kitchen Collective in Gaziantep, and Loom in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on the infrastructures of hospitality and mobility.

Bedir curated uncommon river, Plovdiv/Bulgaria (2015) and Vocabulary of Hospitality, Istanbul/Turkey (2015); Rotterdam (2022), and co-curated Automated Landscapes, Shenzhen/China (2017, 2019). Her work has featured in the biennales of Venice/Italy (2021), Istanbul Design/Turkey (2019), Saõ Paulo/Brasilia (2019) and the Oslo Triennale/Norway (2016). She has written for Harvard Design Magazine, AD Magazine, Volume and The Funambulist, among others. Bedir has taught at Hong Kong University, Columbia GSAPP, New York/USA and Delft University of Technology.

Bedir took part in the conference “Urban inequalities: from right to city to taking control”, which was organized in Sofia by the Collective for Social Interventions with the support of foundation Rosa Luxemburg. Cross-border Talks discussed with her in brief about her takeaways from the conference.

Ms. Bedir, we are at the final moments of the Sofia conference on Urban Inequalities. What is your take on what you heard? The topics, the messages, the interlocutors? How much were they of interest to you?

For me, this has been a very important gathering. I was born and raised in Turkey and I studied in the Netherlands. I lived and worked in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. As my work spread across these places I came to Plovdiv in 2014 and 2015 and worked on a cultural festival on architecture and the city. I think that the Balkans is the most important region in Europe in order to see what is to come. The future of Europe will follow the future of the Balkans.

Secondly, on the question of content, the topics that were raised in this conference about inequality and justice upon systematic and infrastructural issues allowed us to see the several actors working in the city, and their agencies. It’s important that this was not just an academic conference, not just an activist conference, not just a conference for architects. It brought together all of these people and also went beyond them. So when you come here, you know that you are not going to listen to a certain kind of lecture within a certain kind of audience. Here are people with talents, skills, and dedication. 

The third is about the message. It is important to look at the intersection of different issues, at the intersection of different cities across the Balkans. For instance, the panel of yesterday on air quality brought together people from Sofia, Belgrade, and others. A topic that is seemingly technical and technological was discussed as an indicator of inequality and spatial segregation, as well as a public health matter. 

What is the importance of connections between activists or scholars in our region on these specific issues?

These connections matter, because these people inform each other in such forums. If we don’t know theory, if we don’t know history, we can’t really develop new knowledge. And also, if we don’t know the ground reality, we also can’t develop new knowledge. And new knowledge is important not because there are new consumers for new knowledge, but it is important because it helps us to possibly act in a different way.

How do you appreciate the organization of part of this conference, the fact that it was in Sofia during some public events, etc. How does all that come as an experience for you?

For me, as I said, because I was here before, I find it very important to come back again. But I think one idea for this would be to repeat the gathering in different cities. So next year or in some future moment such a forum could take place in Belgrade, sometime later it can be Bucharest, sometime later it can be in Budapest. So I think the idea should also be to continue with this network of people and topics.

And if you allow me, finally, what’s next for you after this conference, presuming you have some takeaways from it. So what follows for you now? 

One question I reflect upon is the possibility of nonalignment today, the possibility of another Non-Aligned Movement today.

This question is very important. Again, I think that we are at the crossroads of Europe, but also there is a larger context, the international. We are at the crossroads where we are pushed to take a side, to align with one of the powers of the world about our values, our ethics, the issues we find important to address to live altogether. This gathering is important in that sense for me, because it actually looks at values, ethics, and living together from an objective perspective without taking sides. Then my question is how we can create alliances, how we can create solidarity in a non-aligned way, on our own, without taking sides of an important power. How can we create power from within the region and an internationalist one; through partnerships for change, create power from ourselves, from our own capacity, through our values, ethics, ideals? This shows the possibility of another non-aligned movement today. And that’s why this conference is, for me, very important.

Do you think there are allies for that in our region?

Yes, I do. The allies are in this conference.

Photo: Merve Bedir (source: Merve Bedir)

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