With the election of the Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party candidate Ekrem Imamoglu as mayor of Istanbul, everyone in Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular is waiting to open files of corruption that have frightened the municipality, especially in the real estate sector, land and imaginary projects, including the new Istanbul airport. However, the Gezi Park events are the most important files expected to be opened by the new mayor.
At the end of May 2013, thousands protested in Istanbul, condemning the construction of a shopping center in Gezi Park near Taksim Square in the center of the city, which later turned into a protest movement across the country against the policies of Erdogan, who was then prime minister.
Gezi Park is one of the few places where opponents of Erdogan can demonstrate and hold activities opposed to his regime, after he turned Istanbul into a concrete jungle.
The Gezi Park protests began against a plan to section off part of the park for investors to build new commercial and residential towers. The protests quickly evolved into violent confrontations that lasted a long time between thousands of citizens – including men, women, young, old, leftist, nationalist, politicized and ordinary citizens – and the state on the other side. As the number of protesters increased and Erdogan’s police attacked demonstrators, 11 people were killed and 8,000 injured.
“Gezi was a rebellion and protest in which the people and workers in Turkey felt free for the first time,” said Fatima Yildirim, who was among the protesters.
However, Gezi Park was not alone. The Istanbul authorities under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) also sectioned off part of the Maçka Democracy Park, one of the oldest parks in Istanbul.
Corruption is also evident in the fact that 117 buildings were built in Istanbul within a very short period of the AKP taking over the city. Reports by the Turkish Parliament’s Seismological Commission, the Istanbul Municipality, and the Federation of Turkish Engineers and Architects said that if an earthquake occurs between 2030 and 2040, it could result in 80,000-625,000 deaths, between 600,000 and 1 million homes destroyed, and financial losses of hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of fraud in the construction of those properties.
According to the environmental performance index published by Yale University each year, due to the destruction of the ecological and natural habitats in Turkey, the country’s ranking declined 33 spots during the rule of the AKP.
In the university’s 2016 report, Turkey ranked 99th out of 180 countries on the overall index, but in the category of environmental and land protection, Turkey ranked 177th. Other countries close in rank to Turkey were Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, Lesotho, Barbados, Syria and Iraq.
Nidal al-Saba’a, an expert on international affairs, said the victory of the Turkish opposition to head the Istanbul municipality would open up files of secret corruption in the municipality.
Saba’a added that Erdogan is “mobilizing all his strength to keep Istanbul under the leadership of his party,” but the opposition has benefited from previous election experiences in maintaining the municipal victory after the bitter experiences the results being changed for Erdogan’s party.
Issues of corrupt deals and commissions that Erdogan and his party would have received will be the subject of investigations in the coming period, Saba’a said, adding that the opposition has come upon a golden opportunity to expel the dictator, expose him to the Turkish people, and show the fact that he is profiting from the people’s money at their expense.
Saba’a expected that Erdogan fears that the elected mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, will review some files revealing that the Istanbul municipality, in the era of the AKP in 2018, donated 125 million lira to the Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (TÜRGEV), headed by Erdogan’s son Bilal Erdogan, and 75 million lira for Sufi order groups. This is expected to accelerate the opening of corruption files by the end of Erdogan’s rule, with Turkey possibly witnessing early presidential elections.