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NGO groups unite to protest planned demolition of Istanbul theater

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/19/2010 12:00:00 AM | TUBA PARLAK

A demonstration by the Platform against the Demolition of the Emek Movie Theater was conducted in a festive spirit with clowns, horns, music and films on Sunday, yet the truth about the historic Beyoğlu cinema’s future remains unclear, with many worried about the construction of a shopping mall on the site, thereby ruining the location’s character

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the festival that awards the Golden Tulip. This version reflects the correction.

Although acknowledging that their demonstration may be too late, a collection of group and cinephiles joined forces Sunday to protest the imminent destruction of İstiklal Avenue’s historic Emek cinema, which will be replaced by a shopping center.

The demonstration was organized by the Platform against the Demolition of the Emek Movie Theater and supported by İsyanbul Kültür ve Sanat Varyetesi (Isyanbul Culture and Art Variety – where Isyanbul stems from a combination of Istanbul and “isyan,” or rebellion).

Also present were well-known actors, directors and film critics, who made their way to the movie theater in a carnival-like parade led by a brass band and a sad-faced clown bearing a badge, saying, “Let It Come down with Applause.” Movie-lovers and the general public also showed a keen interest in the parade.

After the parade arrived at the Emek Movie Theater, well-known Turkish actor Tuncel Kurtiz issued a brief press statement, stressing that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was trying to remove cultural and historical values in Istanbul. “We have not been able to protect those values up until now, I am sad to admit; however, we must do it from now on, at least. Ferhan Şensoy rescued the Ses Theater. Similarly, we will not let them lay their hands on the Emek and its historical heritage.”

[HH] 'We own Emek, we own Istanbul’

The press statement, which was read aloud by actor Mert Fırat, highlighted the fact that Beyoğlu Mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay and Fatih Keskün, the architect of the project, had misinformed the public with vague descriptions of the plans. This, the statement read, conveyed the idea that Emek theater was being moved “upstairs” not being “demolished.”

“An Emek Theater that has lost its contact with the streets,” the statement said, “is not Emek, at all.”

The demonstrators demanded the ability to walk directly to the cinema without having to climb stairs while traversing through the mall.

The press statement further said the AKP’s urban transformation projects, which have previously targeted the Atatürk Culture Center, or AKM, and the Sulukule neighborhood, formerly home to a long-standing Roma community, and are currently targeting Beyoğlu’s Cercle D’Orient building along with the Tarlabaşı neighborhood, are responsible for stealing the urban domain from the public and putting it at the mercy of capital interest.

“We are against granting a construction permit for this attempt,” the statement said, adding that the neighborhoods of Balat, Ayvansaray and Başıbüyük would also be targeted in the future.

“They [AKP] officials have burned the forests down and inappropriately bestowed those lands to ‘their men,’ now it’s the turn for the urban centers,”  said well-known actor Güven Kıraç, speaking to the press after the statement.

[HH] AKP wants gentrification, activists say

Architect Cansu Yapıcı spoke to Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review representing İsyanbul Culture Variety – a name that merges “Istanbul” and “isyan” (rebellion).

Yapıcı said the group was comprised of 10 architects and lawyers not only trying to prevent the demolition of the Emek Movie Theater, but as part of an overall protest against the AKP’s urban transformation projects. 

“One thing that minister Günay and those who support the demolition say about the condition of Emek is particularly heartbreaking for us, which is that Emek has been filthy and nobody even wanted to go there. As a result, it recently had to close its shutters. First of all, saying that nobody went there at all is not a legitimate defense, but a ridiculous attempt at one. We do not need to be frequenting one spot in order to stand up against its demolition. If Emek was in, say, Diyarbakır, would they say us that we had no right to protest its demolition because we do not even live there and do not visit the spot at all?”

Yapıcı pointed out that Inci Patisserie, one of the signature features of Beyoğlu, was about to be demolished as well. Yapıcı said the historic texture which had been referred to as “filth” needed to be protected, in addition to preserving the material structure.

She said Rüya Theater, which has not been protected by any regulations, was also a part of our cultural heritage and was a cultural value in itself, having become famous for its “Two Super Films In One” slogan — referring to the erotic movies it screened. “Perhaps this is part of the reason that they are so keen to destroy Rüya Theater,” she said.

Yapıcı said the AKP’s urban transformation plan was merely a gentrification effort, recalling that recalled Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş once said London, Paris and Istanbul were not cities where everybody could live.

“There is an [International Monetary Fund] IMF notice to the mayors stating that if you can contribute to global capital, you must change your cities into a sellable commodity. That is exactly what they are doing by building a shopping mall on the ruins of the Cercle d’Orient. But this plan is doomed to backfire because by erasing Istanbul’s memory and history, they, on the contrary, are making it less of a sellable commodity,” she said. 

[HH] A late protest

One of the participants of the demonstration, Fırat Yücel, a member of Turkish Film Critics Association, or SİYAD, and editor in chief of the monthly “Altyazı,” said it was not an issue that the lately unfrequented Emek would become overpopulated once demolished.

“The reason why people did not go to the Emek was that it was not run properly,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “People do go during Istanbul film festivals. They might have changed it to something that serves art and culture, not something that feeds global capital. Without any effort to enable that, they jump into the conclusion that a shopping mall as a replacement will reanimate the dead quarter.”

Ultimately, he said, “We were too late to show our resistance.”

Yücel said such inaction was partly due to the fact many believed the plans that the theater would merely be relocated to the second floor. “It is another reason why we are here. We are here to make everybody know that the authorities have been lying to us all.”

The Platform Against the Demolition of the Emek Movie Theater also organized an award ceremony including a film screening after the demonstration, in which Demircan, Günay and Keskün were awarded a “plastic tulip,” alluding to Istanbul Film Festival’s Golden Tulip award, thereby concluding their protest in festive spirits.

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