No ordinary resignation for Istanbul

No ordinary resignation for Istanbul

Under normal circumstances, in a normal news cycle, the resignation of Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş should have been in the headlines throughout all subsequent days. But it had already become common news in pro-government news outlets on the morning of Sept. 22, and he waited until 7:00 p.m. that evening to announce it.

Still, there is something fishy in the whole process. Topbaş came from the ranks of the Islamist Refah Party and became a faithful soldier of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for more than a decade.

He could easily have become an MP and a possible urbanization minister, but Erdoğan kept him at the helm of the “tap.” Istanbul had become the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) war chest, and during Topbaş’s tenure there were many allegations that the wealth created by the re-zoning, deforestation and privatization of public land went a long way to financing the AK Party’s election machine. 

So why did Topbaş, the silent but strong mayor of Istanbul, decide to suddenly quit? 

The resignation comes after his son-in-law, Ömer Faruk Kavurmacı, was arrested and jailed on the grounds that he had ties to the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). According to sources I have spoken to, Kavurmacı was a member of TUSKON, a business group with close ties to FETÖ, but it was actually one of his brothers who had deeper ties to FETÖ - and he had already fled Turkey before the July 2016 coup attempt.

The real factor in the resignation of the AK Party’s most important figure in local politics is believed to be infighting in the Istanbul municipal administration over financial resources. Topbaş had reportedly been resisting five very high-profile projects.

Sources close to Topbaş told me that Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım filled positions under him with unqualified “trolls.” They complained that gossip, defamation and mobbing therefore became a common practice in the mayor’s office. “He got so fed up and could only tolerate it up to a point, trying to stop these guys from ransacking and looting the entire municipal treasury,” one close Topbaş associate told me. The AK Party has reached boiling point in Istanbul. Local branches are in constant competition with each other. Because of the new presidential system, nobody wants to be a member of parliament anymore.

The real gold rush is for lofty and lucrative mayoral positions. There are complaints that bribery and mafia-like business are deeply entrenched in the politics of Istanbul, resembling New York in the 1950s.
Could Topbaş have stayed and tried to resist the infighting? According to journalist Rusen Çakır, the founder of the independent media platform Medyascope, President Erdoğan has recently been surrounding himself with incapable and unqualified advisors like never before. 

“The vote [about the five projects] inside the municipal council against Topbaş was almost like a palace coup, rather like the incident organized by Erdoğan against [former Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu,” Çakır said in one of his broadcasts. “It is obvious that the team is no longer united. There is a palpable disintegration inside the AK Party that seems irreversible.”

Under normal circumstances, TV news stations should have been talking about this latest resignation for days. But with the intense pressure coming from Ankara, it has ended up simply becoming an ordinary event. Topbaş was an international figure in local politics and he will continue to be that way. 

Still, on a happy note, my former editor Kadri Gürsel has finally been released after 11 months in jail and we at least have something to celebrate.