Would the Olympic Games not be a wonderful thing for Turkish sport? Or would it just be a wonderful thing for the developers?
What do Istanbulites themselves say?
According to many people we talk to, the answer is 'not on your nelly'. After the Gezi Park incidents, campaigners are now calling for the IOC not even to consider their city, and to remove it immediately from the list of candidate cities for the 2020 Olympics. The 'five' attacks on Gezi Park protesters 'between May 28 and June 15… terrified the whole city' and suffocated it 'under a mass of gas'. That would be a mere meze in the bunfight if the green light is given for a thousand highly controversial pet projects lined up for the Olympics.
On June 21, the two human rights organisations, Urban Movements Istanbul / HIC and People’s Houses, set out some of the arguments in an article in the Habitat International Coalition website. 'If Istanbul becomes the host city,' they say, it is evident from the Gezi Park experience 'how any protest during the Games will be approached by the government. Even the smallest, the most minute, the most peaceful protest, demonstration or rally bears the potential of igniting an explosion.'
'The Gezi protests spread nationwide not because of the Gezi Park demolition alone,' they say, but because thousands were furious about projects that amount to 'urbanicide' and 'ecocide' and a much-feted 'urban transformation project' that has 'engendered demolitions' and 'forced evictions'. 'Four million trees on the Black Sea coast are being cut down to open space for the 3rd Bosphorus Bridge', and the environmental impacts of a plan to build a new canal from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara to bypass the Bosphorus 'might lead to a natural disaster not only for Istanbul and Turkey, but for neighbouring countries as well'.
The destruction of the historic market gardens along the ancient city walls mentioned in this blog is just one of the many projects that historians and environmentalists find so deeply saddening. The entire Golden Horn is also to be turned into a marina, and the historic districts of Fener and Balat along its banks bulldozed to make way for a fake old housing scheme worth billions – Ayvansaray has already been flattened. The raising of loans for Istanbul's third airport will also no doubt be facilitated by Olympic approval.
It would seem that what makes people really angry is the 'sudden top-down decision-making process of the present government'. Projects are being 'implemented without any consultation with the local communities'.
So sad, really. With sensitive handling, the Olympics should have been a complete win-win situation, a wonderful crowning of a beautiful city's return to the limelight, and a great unifyer and tonic, as they were in London last year. If things continue as they do, and if Istanbul does get the prize, many Istanbulites fear it will be its death knell.
'The ideals of Olympic Games rest on excellence, respect and friendship, with respect for development, peace and the environment… keeping Istanbul on the list of Olympic host-city applicants would be tantamount to pepper-gassing these ideals.'
Worth pondering? We will be assessing some of the projects in detail in future blogs.