Last weekend, the headline of daily Hürriyet should have sent shockwaves to all politicos and business figures. In the most historic shopping malls of all, namely the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, 600 shops have been closed because of an “unspoken” economic crisis. Four decades ago such news toppled a shah in Iran.
Turkey’s economy, despite all the statistical magic in Ankara, is not really doing well. The hairdresser next to my house, which runs on appointments especially on Mondays, was empty this week. Zuhal, the hairdresser, said: “I only did one manicure today and I have no idea what is going on. Business is extremely slow.” Zuhal is not alone; the little grocery on the corner isn’t having an easy time, and the poshest restaurant on the hills of the Bosphorus isn’t either. So why do officials keep on playing a game of optimism?
The 600 shops in the Grand Bazaar are a symbol. The most pious, traditional, pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) merchants in Istanbul are feeling the heat as they close their shops, some of them unable to pay their rent. Even in the most historic districts, landlords accept a lower rent in order not to put a “FOR RENT” in the windows. There is a deep cash crunch in the market and everyone is looking for opportunities to buy U.S. dollars or euros. For a long time, government policies halfheartedly supported these maneuvers expecting it would help exports. Unfortunately, Turkey has come to the point of no exports at all, except perhaps automotives.
Construction and manufacturing can boost the economy only to a certain extent when there is little or no confidence in the general public to invest or even buy most necessities. Lower-income families are rolling over their debt month after month just to pay the bills.
İstinye Park and Zorlu Center are no good either. A much respected jeweler, who has shops both in the Grand Bazaar as well as the Zorlu Shopping Center, told me this over the weekend:
“There are no Western tourists coming, no Western businessmen, no Japanese either. We are off the cruise line calendar until 2018. The only shoppers here are the Arabs that stay in the hotel and use the gift cards given by the hotel to buy clothing. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The bazaar should send alarm bells not just to economic circles, but to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara
as well. Bringing figures like Lindsey Lohan, who lost appeal and respect in the Western media a long time ago, to refugee camps in Gaziantep and restaurants in Istanbul can only fill the pockets of some pseudo-lobbyists and C-class actor agents. Real publicity starts when Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stops insulting his colleagues in public during press conferences and the government stops jailing journalists and writers, for example.
When a country wakes up to the news of 12,000 police officers withdrawn from duty, you are not just sending messages of “determination” against the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ). You are also saying the streets will be less safe.
The Grand Bazaar’s crisis is finally out in the open, but the nation still has to face the bitter facts that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the sun, but another train approaching fast.