İstanbul’s ‘Crazy Urbanization’ that offends Mehmet the Conqueror


Turkish riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim square in central İstanbul. (Photo: Reuters, Osman Orsal)

On Wednesday, the 560th anniversary of İstanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans, actor Devrim Evin, who starred as Mehmet the Conqueror (Fatih) in the 2012 movie “Fetih 1453,” turned down an invitation by the city of İstanbul to join the traditional ceremonies.

Evin’s decision was surely a surprise to local authorities. I don’t know what else we could expect him to do, while bulldozers were bringing down 80-year-old trees in a park to build a shopping mall in the  heart of İstanbul’s Taksim Square. Evin’s reaction could not have been more justified under these circumstances, I believe. His stance immediately made headlines due to the movie’s popularity and the actor’s image as Fatih in people’s minds.

In an interview on Wednesday, Evin depicted the government decision to uproot the trees as “sheer carelessness.” He later joined the group of protesters who had been camping in the park to stand guard against the demolition of the park’s walls and the uprooting of trees. Don’t forget that this planned mall is but a small part of the government’s upcoming $80-billion-mega-construction projects, the majority of which are in forested areas to İstanbul’s north.

There is this growing sense in public opinion that Gezi Park could become a symbol for future reactions to government projects that kill green areas. Remember this, particularly when considering the fast-growing disappointment among many Turks that İstanbul will eventually lose its green areas to “profitable” projects.

The situation has the potential to evolve into a headache for the government. The government could not have put itself in a worse situation. Bringing down 80-year-old trees on the very day when Turkey remembers Fatih –- who is known for having championed environmental sensitivities -– is not the smartest move. Fatih was so strict in his love for greenery that historic records show he could go as far as condemning to death those who cut down young trees. The young sultan also issued a royal decree that included orders for the protection of the environment soon after he took control of Constantinople, as it was then known. There are some municipalities in Anatolia that use this decree as an example with regard to their parks. The city of İstanbul could have done this, but forgot. It shouldn’t have.

What the government –- long promoters of the “Ottoman spirit” — is doing now is nothing but the denial of the environment-friendly heritage that Mehmet II left. Dozens of contractors and construction firms have been enjoying huge profits thanks to projects they were encouraged to build over the past decade. Similar “profitable” projects have already proved the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government’s so-called love for the Ottoman model has been replaced by a blindfolded “urbanization policy.”

However unlikely it may sound, even former Cabinet members are uneasy with this senseless urbanization. Ertuğrul Günay, who was replaced On Jan. 24 by Ömer Çelik as tourism minister in the Cabinet, criticized the government’s urban planning in his tweet on Thursday, saying, “These actions will not help make İstanbul a better place.”

After all, give honor to whom honor is due: The government has planted 2.5 billion trees. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier boasted of his party’s decade-old rule. But is this an excuse to destroy the existing trees.  Well, no!

Fatih and his predecessors left İstanbul a heritage. What will we have to leave to our children? Let me tell you: Multi-billion-dollar-concrete, satellite cities. Maybe you can find some trees scattered around, but don’t be too much optimistic.

Ergin Hava
31 May 2013