Many headaches at Istanbul’s Galataport demolition

Many headaches at Istanbul’s Galataport demolition

Weeks ago in this column I questioned the demolition of Istanbul’s Karaköy Passenger Lounge, a building that was supposed to be under first degree protection. Scrutinizing the Passenger Lounge and the historic adjacent post office building, I asked how the Istanbul Conservation Board could have allowed this.  

The reason I was directing these questions to the board, headed by city planner Ahmet Kaya, was that the company conducting the “Galataport” project, the Salıpazarı Port Management, issued a statement on Feb. 18, shortly after the front façade of the Karaköy Passenger Lounge was completely demolished. 

The company, partnered by the Doğuş Group and Bilgili Holding, claimed that it had all the necessary permits for the “restoration.” After this statement, the interior and the roof of the historic 1911 post office building were knocked down, leaving only its seaside façade intact.  

Upon a second wave of criticism, the Salıpazarı Port Management issued another statement on March 3, again claiming that the “necessary permits” were obtained. 

These statements aim to legitimize the demolition of both historic buildings within the framework of the Conservation Board decisions. What’s more, they also mention the building permits of the municipality, somehow bringing the Istanbul Municipality into the equation. 

The statement gave me the impression that the conservation board had permitted the demolition. That is why I asked in my column on March 7 when the company filed for demolition. If the board granted the permit, in which meeting was this decision made? And why did the board take a step back from its number 4559 decision made in 2016? 

I received no answer for almost three weeks. But a reply came with last weekend’s story in daily Hürriyet. It reported that the Conservation Board had filed criminal complaints at the Prosecutor’s Office against those who knocked down the historic Karaköy Passenger Lounge and the post office. 

According to the report, the Protection Board sent four experts to the constructio site two weeks ago. These experts checked whether or not the construction works were conducted in compliance with the approved “Galataport” project. Starting with the post office, the experts found that registered buildings were knocked down and practices unrelated to the project were carried out. Upon the experts’ report, the board decided that this was in violation of law number 2863. It also decided to file a legal complaint. 

According to information gathered by Hürriyet, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s representatives on the board also signed the complaint. This demonstrates that the municipality also regards the demolition as problematic.   

Article 65 of the Code of Protection of Cultural and Natural Properties (2863) reads as follows: “People who demolish, degrade, destroy or in any manner damage immovable protected cultural and natural property, or who prompt such acts intentionally, shall be punished with a prison sentence of from two to five years and be given a judicial fine up to 5,000 days. People who allow demolition or development irregularities not in line with the procedures covered in this Law shall be punished with a prison sentence of from two to five years and a judicial fine of up to 5,000 days.” 

To sum up the issue here, the Conservation Board’s permit for restoration works, dated June 9, 2016, has a number of conditions attached. For example, restoration of the passenger lounge was suitable for “rectifications,” while the board did not even give the green light for “rectification” of the post office. Only minor restoration work was permitted. However, the parcel post office has now been completely demolished apart from its front façade. 

The criminal complaint filed by the board is open proof that no permit for a demolition was granted for these buildings within the framework of the “Galataport” project. 

In that case, who gave permission for this demolition?