According to the Today’s Zaman reporter Gürkan Savgı’s news; Throughout the process aiming to make Yassıada “an island of democracy and freedom,” the stance displayed has in fact been contrary to this goal.

The death penalty for Yassıada!

Throughout the process aiming to make Yassıada “an island of democracy and freedom,” the stance displayed has in fact been contrary to this goal. Through a legislative article hidden in a bill passed through Parliament, all construction on the island has been made exempt from the current laws on bidding tenders and building regulations.

Any and all objections to planned construction have been discounted. In fact, the area reserved for construction was extended even further, almost in defiance of those objections.

Meanwhile, the land available for construction in İstanbul is more or less used up, and construction is heading into the water around the city. While people still have vivid memories of the shoreline areas being plunged underwater by the 1999 earthquake, enormous construction is now under way along the Yenikapı and Maltepe shorelines. And in fact, the adherence to development plans seems to have reached such a nadir that even the Prince’s Islands, considered by many the jewels of İstanbul, have begun to feel the effects. Most recently, Yassıada — on which former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his compatriots were tried and sentenced to death — and Sivriada were both opened up to construction. Dr. Mustafa Farsakoğlu, the mayor of the islands, has announced that the $350 million tourism and congress center project has been given over to two companies with strong ties to the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB). Let us take a look at how this public works and planning process, which is controlled and guided by the central administration, really functions.

The islands, which suffered environmental problems for many years due to the mismanagement of their stone quarries, were declared in 1979 by the then-Real Estate Old Works and Monuments High Board to be “A Natural and Historical Area Requiring Protection.” Then, in 2006, the İstanbul 5th Regional Board of Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection decided that Yassıada’s historical SIT (protected site) status was to continue as a natural SIT area. Later still, Yassıada was turned over to the Ministry of Defense, at which point the island was closed off to all others, including tourists.

A 2009 decision by the Municipal Council of the islands returned Yassıada, Sivriada and Tavşanadası to the municipality. But this demand to the İstanbul Governor’s Office was not accepted. In the meantime, the Adalar (Islands) Municipality began its work on a development plan.

When general awareness of democratic principles was awakened during the Ergenekon trials, a number of civil society organizations brought Yassıada back onto the agenda. It was during this time that the idea of creating a museum of democracy on the island arose. In 2011, a move was made by the regional administration to renew the island’s protected status.

The handing of wide-reaching city planning powers to the Ministry of the Environment and Urban Planning, created in 2011, was a move bringing many new developments. In 2012, the “Detection, Patenting and Administration of Protected Areas” regulation came into effect. These two developments were to have a serious effect on the future of the island. The İstanbul 1st Natural Heritage Regional Protection Commission moved to raise Yassıada’s status to that of a First Degree Natural SIT zone, instead identifying the island as “a zone to be used under controlled and sustainable protection.” This paved the way for construction on Yassıada. The same commission then lifted the island’s SIT status. The Adalar Municipality also signed off on this decision. But the municipality now defends itself by saying that it did not foresee heavy city planning taking place on the island.

Another step towards heavy construction on both Yassıada and Sivriada came with the “bag law” that was itself the target of much criticism. City planning was authorized here through Law 6456, published in the April 18, 2013 Official Gazette. The first investments, to be carried out on the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, were exempted from various regulations thanks to Law 3966. In the meantime, orders emerged that city planning on the island would also be exempt from various regulations and restrictions guaranteed by Shoreline Law 3621. In short, the legal foundations for a very open city planning and construction situation had been laid. In the meantime, the Adalar Municipality missed the 60-day window for applying to court to block such construction.

In the wake of these legal foundations for the new city planning and construction efforts came the approval process by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning. The plans for both islands were temporarily shelved. The plan for Yassıada was pided into three areas: a tourism-culture area, the docks and the shoreline. In the tourism-culture area, 65 percent of the planned construction was approved. In fact, it was agreed that hotels, bungalows, cafes, restaurants, helipads, parks, open-air museums, squares, libraries and galleries could all be built there. In the docks area, 15 percent of the proposed construction was approved, with permission for a boat docking area, an information and ticket sales area, a welcoming building and a café. Rocky coastal and dock areas were closed to general planning, however. Forty percent of Sivriada was opened to construction. During this time, there were 210 separate objections lodged by the municipality, civil society organizations and citizens against these projects. It was pointed out that cultural and natural treasures on both islands were being completely disregarded by the plans, and it was also noted that certain historic structures should be better protected. At the same time, the plans for a museum and congress center were widely agreed upon, as long as the natural fabric of the islands was protected as much as possible. Warnings were issued that the planned construction was extreme and would disrupt the islands’ natural fabric as well as its pre-existing urban structure.

During this phase it became apparent that the plans were coming directly from the central administration, and also that they were entirely results-focused and disconnected from citizens’ worries and complaints. As such, the Ministry of Environment informed the Adalar Municipality that it did not consider its objections “appropriate” to the situation. Following this, the ministry began to alter its own plans. It reduced the permit for the construction area to 35 percent. However, the construction area was actually not decreased but widened by the move. The 52,000-square-meter area set out in the first plan increased to 55,000 square meters. This was because the three functional areas mentioned above were combined to form only one, which allowed the calculation of the construction area to be determined by the deed borders. Furthermore, in the previous plan, city planning and construction permission had been granted mainly for the tourism-culture area. The new situation was even more objectionable to many people. As for the plans for Sivriada, these were reduced by half.

In the meantime, it also became clear which companies were being considered for the planned construction. Company representatives paid visits to Mayor Farsakoğlu to speak about the $350 million project. These representatives were Customs and Tourism A.Ş. General Manager Ömer Gebeş and TÜR-SUM Construction Project Undersecretariat and Trade Ltd. General Manager Ahmet Akpınar.

Mayor Farsakoğlu, describing the planning process on the islands as “anti-democratic,” noted that the municipality had opened a legal case pushing for a “halt to construction” on the islands. Olgun Çalışkan, a board member of the İstanbul branch of the Chamber of Urban Planning, asserts: “The city planners on both Yassıada and Sivriada not only did not consult the views of civil society organizations and citizens, but did not even consult the local municipality. I am of the view that all the planning has been done with a view to the larger project at hand.”

Prince’s Islands

These islands are located off the coast of İstanbul, in the Sea of Marmara, and form two groups. The first set of islands is closer to the shoreline and includes Kınalıada, Burgazadası, Kaşıkadası, Heybeliada, Büyükada, Tavşanadası and Sedefadası. The second group is further from the shoreline and includes only Sivriada and Yassıada. The distance from İstanbul of all the islands ranges from three kilometers (Büyükada) to 13.5 kilometers (Yassıada).

Inhabited islands: Büyükada (Prinkipo), Heybeliada (Halki), Burgazadası (Antigoni), Kınalıada (Proti), Sedefadası

Uninhabited islands: Kaşıkadası (Pita), Sivriada (Oksia), Yassıada (Plati), Tavşanadası (Neandros)

Gürhan Savgı/Today’s Zaman

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