Paradise in peril

By Cornucopia Blog | June 23, 2013

Istanbul has a richer flora than the whole of the British Isles. This radiant crocus is just one of countless rare endemic plants under threat. The Gezi Park protests have brought conservationists the first glimmer of hope in a decade, although news that the third-largest airport in the world is set to replace the Belgrade Forest, the water-catchment area between Istanbul and the European shore of the Black Sea, may well be the killer blow to this and many other endemics.

Crocus pestalozzae (Umraniye çiğdemi in Turkish) is blue in cultivation but pure white in its natural habitat,’ explains the botanist Andrew Byfield, who took the photograph. It is the most tolerant to damp of all crocuses and the most at risk. Confined to a triangle between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, it thrives in the flat, low heathland areas favoured by developers, and thousands are destroyed every year. The flower appeared in a Cornucopia article in 2000, Greenbelt or Backyard, by Andrew Finkel.

‘For some time I had been fending off the suspicion,’ Andrew Finkel wrote this week in his Latitude blog for the New York Times, The Civics of Civility, ‘that I live in a city so well behaved it is incapable of raising more than a polite cough to protest its own destruction.

‘In London, environmentalists and community activists have managed for an entire decade to stall the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport. But when the central government in faraway Ankara announced its intention to build a third airport with six runways in Istanbul, the news was treated here as a fait accompli. This city has a famously low rate of crime against the person, yet it has long looked the other way when it comes to crimes against the environment.’

In Greenbelt or Backyard, Finkel wrote that the threat to Istanbul’s heathlands came from both the ‘contagion of illegal housing’ and ‘the new affluent’. In 2000, an area under particular threat lay towards the Asian Black Sea shore (now a prime beneficiary of the Prime Minister's Third Bridge). Then as now environmentalists complained how difficult it was to raise public awareness. ‘Among those with holdings in the area is a group connected to the Doğan Media Group.’ Plus ça change...

It is stating the obvious but what is incomprehenbsible to the Cornucopia Blog is this: Turkey is not a tiny island with limited resources, but a vast, fertile semi-continent. Why on earth must everything beautiful, fine, historic and God-given in and around Istanbul be destroyed? There is room for everyone and everything in this country – even a third airport (who would begrudge a few miles of wheatfield in the middle of Thrace, bar a few migrating woodcock, for example?).

Norman Stone complained two weeks ago that Istanbul was in danger of being Trabzonised. In fact it is being Dubaified. But Dubai is a desert. Istanbul is Eden. All that is needed is planning and brains and know-how and consideration and respect, and civility, all of which exist in spades among the thousands of peace-loving heroes being insulted and gas-bombed every weekend by our great leader. If only he would listen. He would be the first to benefit. And so would his bank manager.

Andrew Finkel concludes his New York Times blog: ‘The markets have been rattled – which means that the government will find it much more difficult to finance its cherished development projects, including finding all those billions for that third airport… All of which is to say that I was wrong to call into question my reasons for loving living here. Whatever gains are made in the battle to save Istanbul will be made because of, not despite, the basic civility of its people.’

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