Police escorted bulldozer enters Istanbul grove at dawn, driving locals to streets

Police escorted bulldozer enters Istanbul grove at dawn, driving locals to streets

Police escorted bulldozer enters Istanbul grove at dawn, driving locals to streets

The municipality launched the first excavations for the construction of a mosque, in a space currently used as a parking spot in the Validebağ grove, under tight security at dawn. DHA Photo

A bulldozer escorted by police officials has entered Istanbul’s Validebağ grove, which recently became the latest disputed green space in the city after activists launched a campaign to preserve it from a local municipality construction project.

The municipality launched the first excavations in the project, which includes the construction of a recreation area and a mosque, under a tight police escort at dawn on Oct. 21, prompting a number of locals to gather at the grove in order to prevent the work.

Residents claimed that the works were illegal as the legal process regarding the construction of the mosque is still ongoing. 

Istanbul Greater Municipality (İBB), meanwhile, said in a statement on Oct. 21 that the area will be protected and no construction will be allowed in the area.

The grove is one of the few remaining large and protected green spaces in the residential area of Istanbul’s Asian side and includes historical buildings such as the Abdülaziz Mansion and the Adile Sultan Pavilion. The site has also been the scene of many classic Turkish movies, including the legendary 1970s comedy film “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Chaos Class).

However, the local Üsküdar Municipality moved to lift the grove’s protected status in order to turn the area into a leisure complex hosting wedding halls, open-air theaters and artificial pools. The cancelation of the area’s protected status has also cleared the way for the construction of a mosque.

Locals expressed their discontent on social media, describing the methods used by the local municipality as a “pirate raid” and a “pillage attempt.”

One resident even claimed that the manager of the mosque project had dragged her from her car by pulling her hair after she arrived to denounce the construction works.

“They know that this is not legal and the court will suspend the construction [of the mosque], this is why they are trying to make a fait accompli,” Deniz Alkan was quoted as saying by private broadcaster CNN Türk.

Local activists have recently gathered 80,000 signatures to prevent the destruction of the grove. Many claim that the mosque and recreation area projects will pave the way for large residential projects once the grove’s protected status is canceled.

They also warn that other groves on Üsküdar’s hills, Fethi Paşa and Hüseyin Avni Paşa, both of which overlook the Bosphorus, may follow Validebağ’s fate if no opposition is expressed.