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Greenbelt or Backyard?

Istanbul: the big issue

These are the last great heathlands of Eastern Europe, one of the world’s rarest natural habitats. Unless they receive a last-minute reprieve, they will be bulldozed out of existence. Andrew Finkel reports on the dilemma facing the planners in Istanbul

  • The Ömerli Reservoir, surrounded by heathlands, just 20 miles from the centre of Istanbul (photo Ali İhsan Gökçen). This is not picture postcard country, but its ecological status cannot be overstated
  • Crocus pestalozzae is blue in cultivation but pure white in its natural habitat, a triangle of land between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (photo Andrew Byfield)

Turkey’s fledgling conservation lobby is locked in an eleventh-hour battle to preserve one of ‘the world’s rarest habitats’. Environmentalists warn that virgin heathland on the Asian perimeter of Istanbul, which should be protected by international agreement, is under pressure from property developers trying to cash in on the demand after the 1999 earthquake for low-rise suburban homes.

The fate of the 53,000-hectare belt around the Ömerli Reservoir has become a test not simply of Istanbul’s will to conserve, but to discuss and plan its future. The rights and the wrongs of the environmental debate remain contentious but what should be a matter of active public debate and official enquiry is becoming clouded in machinations at both the local and national level.

What is at stake is what environmental activists describe as ‘the last pristine piece of land in Istanbul with everyone from the country’s largest press group to small- and middle-sized companies trying to get a piece of the action.’ The Istanbul-based Society for the Protection of Nature (DHKD), one of the few organisations to raise its head in protest, has little doubt about what this entails.

‘Everyone knows about the historical legacy of the city, but the biological diversity is every bit as important,’ says Nergis Yazgan, a founder of DHKD. She cites some 2000 species of plant in the greater Istanbul region, 150 more varieties than the entire United Kingdom – a land mass 50 times its size.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 21

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Issue 21, 2000 Ottoman Damascus
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 21
  • Miracles in miniature

    Levnî and the Surnâme, by Esin Atıl, gives a spirited and vivid pictorial narration, from the brush of arguably the greatest of all Ottoman miniaturists, of the last great Ottoman festival. This was held in Istanbul in 1720, with all the splendour and magnificence for which the empire was famed. Christine Thomson reviews the Koçbank publication.

  • Green & Green: Spinach and Purslane

    It was not until the sixteenth century when Catherine de’ Medici introduced spinach to France on her arrival from Florence as the bride of Henri II, that it was recognised as a food in its own right. Any dish with spinach is still ‘a la florentine’.
    More cookery features

  • Damascus, The Perfumed City

    Said to be the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Damascus shows the traces of countless rulers, from the Arameans to the French. But it is the Ottomans whose influence is most clearly visible in the old city today. By Brigid Keenan. Photographs by Tim Beddow

  • Vita and Harold go East

    Cornucopia was instrumental in reissuing a forgotten novel by Harold Nicolson, set in Istanbul. First published in 1921, Sweet Waters draws heavily on Nicolson’s experience as a diplomat in the city in the 1910s. It is also a highly autobiographical reworking of his courtship of Vita Sackville-West, as a new foreword by their son, Nigel Nicolson, reveals. By Aslı Aydıntaşbaş

  • The house that came out of the blue

    It was only to stop a property dealer painting the selamlık blue that the Germen family acquired a Bosphorus yalı to look after. This pavilion, on a glorious stretch of the Anatolian shore, enjoys southerly views all the way to the Topkpapı and sunsets to die for. Patrica Daunt meets the latest owners of this former royal residence

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Issue 21, 2000 Ottoman Damascus
£8.00 / $10.34 / 341.96 TL
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