From Uber to sugar
Amid Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” and political debates over the alliance between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a strong debate on a financial crisis slowly brewing in Turkey’s towns is emerging. In rural Anatolia, it is all about sugar factories and sugar beet production, while in Istanbul, there is feud between taxi drivers and Uber. The former is still largely peaceful and low-key, but the latter is getting ugly.
The AKP’s biggest achievement in the past 15 years is its almost harsh and relentless privatization of any kind of state asset. From roads to palaces, from schools to hospitals, the AKP has built a state so capitalist and liberal that even the U.S. would be amazed. According to Finance Minister Naci Ağbal, 10 seaports, 37 mine reserves, 90 power plants, and 3,000 real estate properties have been sold successfully. Once again, sugar plants, the assets of the Turkish Republic since its foundation and which are the backbones of the economy in rural cities like Tokat, Yozgat, Uşak, and Erzurum, are on the list.
My dad, Prof. Mustafa Özyurt, a medical doctor who later became an MP, used to tell us about his high school years in the Marmara district of Adapazari, where during summer holidays he would go and work at a sugar plant. “We had engineers assigned for 10 farmers; they would plan the season, the uprooting and the logistics. There was cooperation between the educated and the farmer. There were tennis courts, sports fields and theater halls inside these factories,” he said. “Now they are selling every factory without looking at the social effects this may cause.”
Amid that controversy, there is “Battlefield Istanbul,” where transport services are currently at war. Taxi drivers, who are monopolizing the sector in Istanbul, are rising against Uber, an online taxi-hailing service, claiming it is a “Jewish-American conspiracy.” Eyüp Aksu, the chairman of the Taxi Drivers Chamber in Istanbul, threatened to “do whatever is necessary,” referring to some uprisings against Uber in European cities. But the urbanites, well-educated, white-collar workers, women and youth are supporting Uber. “I know I will not be harassed; my child will be safe,” wrote one woman on Twitter.
I would hate to put the good apples and bad ones together, but there are drug users who work as taxi drivers in Istanbul. One driver is notoriously known for taking a tourist in Istanbul from one continent to another, crossing the bridge and charging 500 Turkish Liras for dropping the tourist off at the airport. It would normally have cost 150 liras. Just last week, daily Habertürk reported that in one incident taxi drivers called Uber vehicles, pretending to be customers, and beat up their drivers.
The government, unsurprisingly, is siding with the association of taxi drivers, who have been threatening citizens’ lives, ripping them off and getting away with it. The Interior Ministry has already started works to ban Uber in Istanbul.
As the elections get closer, the AKP and the MHP are making critical choices that are supposedly “good for the poor masses.” Instead of making life better for the poor, alleviating poverty and trying to achieve less uneducated masses, the AKP and the MHP are exploiting the harshness and brutality of some elements.
It is a paradox. In Anatolia people are becoming poorer, which prompts them to move to bigger cities, where they only get poorer. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for social unrest and civil war.