Control over Istanbul’s historical peninsula

Control over Istanbul’s historical peninsula

The powers of the local government have been increased over the historical peninsula of Istanbul, which is one of the most important area of cultural heritage for us. While the “elected” municipality’s development and construction powers have been broadened, the powers of the “appointed” Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation Board have been substantially trimmed.

Is this good or bad? Should the elected or the appointed have the last word on any matter? The mistake starts with the question because the scope of authority of the elected and the appointed are different in democracies. One should not interfere with the other’s jurisdiction. 

According to the decision approved in the city council with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), 10,000 registered monuments and artifacts will continue to be under the authority of the Conservation Board. Some 50,000 other “unregistered” structures, on the other hand, have been transferred to the authority of the municipality. Plots that are adjacent to historic structures have also been included with them.  

Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir has mentioned building multi-story underground parking facilities under roads, squares and green areas and moving electric cables underground. 

These cannot be objected to, but it is also apparent what kind of city Istanbul has become. Several historic structures have disappeared and become less visible because of apartment buildings and shopping malls built around them with the approval of municipalities.

The severest one is the construction of three skyscrapers in Zeytinburnu that totally destroyed the silhouette of Sultanahmet Mosque on the historic peninsula. Moreover, they were built with a decision by Zeytinburnu Municipality despite an annulment by the Istanbul 4th Administrative Court in 2002. 

The construction sector is continuously encouraged by the government because it creates employment which generates votes in a short time by changing development plans and enlarging development zones as much as possible.

Industrialists and ministers have warned in the past about the unsustainability of building with foreign loans. 
This is the reason the decision about the historical peninsula has created concern. What will happen if the “elected” do not prioritize top cultural values that do not possess any significant vote potential? Well, this is where the “control” issue emerges.

In advanced democracies, independent monitoring and regulating boards are becoming increasingly important. These boards are made up of the “appointed” who do not have vote concerns and who do not take instructions from the government. 

In advanced democracies, civilian society/non-governmental organizations also have a very important monitoring function. 

In authoritarian systems, there are no “independent” institutes or free and strong civilian society structures. In our country, unfortunately, civilian society has not been able to develop due to historic and sociological factors. 

In the past 10 years, foundations and associations have mushroomed in the traditional segment of society. This is pleasing but even independent conservative writers point out that they are “unconditionally dedicated” to the government. 

What remains are the true civilian society organizations that, regardless of their ideology, can carry out controls on behalf of society and stage protests if needed. They are both weak and have further become passive due to the state of emergency (OHAL). 

It is apparent how important an independent judiciary and civilian society monitoring are to prevent a wave of possible excessive profit on the historic peninsula. In our country, they are not at an adequate level.