Judges Halt Erdogan’s Black Sea Airport Project

It evokes memories of the Gaelic heroes Asterix and Obelix stopping the powerful Romans. In the case of Turkey, it’s the little village of Agacli that questioned the legality of building the Black Sea Airport Yeni Havalimani, one of President Erdogan’s prestigious infrastructure projects. A Turkish court has now decided in favor of the lawsuit filed by Agacli.

Construction work of Istanbul’s 3rd airport is in full swing  /  private
Construction work of Istanbul’s 3rd airport is in full swing / private

Under Erdogan leadership the amount of expropriated land has increased explosively of late. 2011 saw 11 cases, the numbers went up to 160 in 2012 and 250 the year after. In most instances, like the proposed Black Sea Airport project or a third Bosporus Bridge (linking Istanbul with the upcoming Yeni Havalimani), Ankara referred to Article 27 of Turkey’s Expropriation Law. This ruling gives the state authorities free reign to change private or municipally owned real estate into national property on the grounds of “rapid expropriation”, based on an amendment to Article 27.

Expropriations have increased sharply
This modification to the law, introduced in 2011 after a devastating earthquake causing a high death toll with many of the victims living in widespread illegally built dwellings, can be applied by the government in three ways: In case of threats posed by natural disasters, for reasons of national defense or by a cabinet decision for the public good. “Since the amendment passed, the third clause has been widely used by the government for its development projects, at the expense of the environment” the Turkish paper Hurriyet reports.

Agacli triumphs
In the case of the Black Sea Airport land expropriation, Ankara’s leaders had explicitly referred to the ‘national defense’ provision mentioned in the amendment.  
Obviously a political and judicial faux pas unmasked by the judges. Based on the complaint lodged by Agacli, a small village near the Black Sea that would be entirely displaced should the airport be built according to plans, a court has stopped the execution of a cabinet decision on rapid expropriation of the land for constructing Istanbul’s third airport near the Black Sea, determining there was no reasoning behind the “defense of the country” as presented by Ankara, to justify the expropriation of large areas of land.

Agacli and other villages will be removed from the landscape once the excavators start their work.
Agacli and other villages will be removed from the landscape once the excavators start their work.

Temporary stay of execution or a full pardon?
Once completely built, the still nameless new airport, Istanbul’s third after Ataturk International and Sabiha Goekcen, will have an annual capacity of 150 million passengers and allow 4 million-plus tons of air freight throughput. However, from the first day the plans of the project were made public, it has drawn opposition from environmentalists, critical of valuable wildlife that would be destroyed forever. 
After the court’s decision to halt construction immediately, Erdogan’s prestigious project has now drifted in to troubled waters. Even if the Court of Appeals should overturn the lower court’s verdict – which is more than uncertain – the plans for building the Black Sea Airport face a major setback to say the least.

Third Bosporus Bridge in jeopardy
So will the third bridge over the Bosporus (north of Istanbul) that is supposed to become the main link between the megacity of 16 million and the future airport. Istanbul’s 8th Administrative Court denounced plans for building the bridge. “The construction plan, namely the Northern Marmara Highway Regulation Plan, has nothing to do with the construction law and leaves no land for further use,” the court said in its ruling. The judges’ decision came after the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects together with Istanbul architects filed a lawsuit demanding the cancellation of all plans allowing routes to cross the Bosporus. In its decision the court concluded that the project “will negatively affect the natural resources and ecological reserves of the city of Istanbul.”
Is seems that Asterix and Obelix, in the name of Agacli, have won the first round of their battle to legally stop Erdogan’s infrastructure obsession. It can be assumed that more rounds will follow.

Heiner Siegmund  /  Michael Taweel

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