Good things happening in Turkey, too: The İzmir example

Good things happening in Turkey, too: The İzmir example

İzmir is Turkey’s third largest city. It is Turkey’s biggest and most important Western port and that is not valid only for trade.

It is the symbol of both modern lifestyle in Turkey, especially in gender equality, and is also staunchly loyal to the secular, democratic basics of the Turkish Republic.

İzmir stood against the constitution change after the military coup in 1961. In the April 16 referendum, when 51.4 percent of all voters approved the consolidation of all executive powers in the president’s hands, İzmir voted 68.8 percent against it.

“We are for freedoms,” says Aziz Kocaoğlu, the mayor of İzmir since 2004. “Our face is turned to West and our lifestyle is important for us.”

Kocaoğlu was arrested together with 129 municipal officers in 2011 because of embezzlement and faced 397 years in jail. It was determined that the documents submitted to the court were fabricated. He and his colleagues were acquitted of all charges. The prosecutors and judges who arrested them are now on trial because of their alleged links with the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of orchestrating the July 15, 2016, military coup attempt in Turkey.

He says that because he is from the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), İzmir cannot receive infrastructure budgets and incentives from the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), requiring him to be innovative and work hard.

As a result, İzmir provided 55 billion Turkish Liras ($15 billion) to the state budget, but received only 13 billion liras for basic expenditures, like salaries and the like. 

“The government gives investment incentives to Manisa [a neighboring Aegean city],” says Ekrem Demirtaş, the chairman of the İzmir Chamber of Commerce. “As a result, some investors take their factories from İzmir and go east and build them on the fertile agricultural land of Manisa. We do not want anything from the central government other than for them to be just.”

İzmir provides nearly 10 percent of all of Turkey’s industrial production, a third of its chemical production, half of its iron and steel and is number one in Turkey’s milk production. With its hinterland, the city is a major producer and exporter of dairy products, olives and olive oil.

The rating of İzmir is higher than Turkey, according to international institutions.

Seventy percent of all hotels in İzmir are full despite the big crisis in Turkish tourism this year thanks to congress tourism, says Başaran Ulusoy, the head of Turkish tourism operators union TÜRSAB. In contrast, Istanbul hotels work at a 40-percent capacity while the Mediterranean resort of Antalya is even lower.

It’s not only the congress and fair tourism. İzmir is the only Turkish city accepted into the international “good food destinations” club of Délice. The municipality and the chamber of commerce are preparing to launch a restaurant chain called “The Aegean Kitchen” starting from London and Paris.

But the overall political situation of Turkey negatively affects investments and tourism in the city. Demirtaş says that because of travel restrictions by the U.S. and the European Union governments due to acts of terror and the civil war in Syria, the insurance costs have sharply increased, causing cancellations of cruise tours and charter flights.

“We managed to sustain development in a free and peaceful environment in our city,” Kocaoğlu said during a briefing tour organized by daily Hürriyet and TÜRSAB. “I hope peace will prevail in Turkey and every other province will be able to prosper like İzmir.”