Barbecue party held at Istanbul's AKM construction site draws ire for flouting COVID-19 measures

A barbecue party held at the construction site of Istanbul's new Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) has drawn ire for flouting COVID-19 precautionary measures. Trade union İnşaat-Sen said that the construction company officials had “endangered the lives of workers and completely broken the rules” with this party and called on authorities to fine the company for its action.

Duvar English

The company overseeing the construction of Istanbul's new Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) on Dec. 7 held a barbecue party for the workers in which COVID-19 safe distancing measures were completely flouted.

Construction workers trade union (İnşaat-Sen) slammed the company officials for this party saying that they had “endangered the lives of workers and completely broken the rules.” The union called on the authorities to fine the company for its action.

“They are letting almost 1,000 workers to work side by side at a period where only 7,000 people are allowed in İstiklal Avenue,” said the union, referring to the authorities' recent measure which says that no more than 7,000 people can walk on the famous avenue at any one time.

“Every day, televisions are reporting fines imposed on people for violating the [COVID-19] rules, for holding parties. Are parties banned in only certain areas? Is gathering and standing in crowds forbidden only for İstiklal Avenue?” asked the union.

The union said that the authorities have been every day imposing fines on tens of people for flouting the social distancing measures just a “few hundred meters away” from the AKM construction site but have been shutting their eyes to the conditions under which workers are made to work.

“At a period in which every kind of activity is banned or delayed, Sembol İnşaat executives are able to hold a 'barbecue party.' The health of our workers, members comes before anything else. And the job of public officials is to protect the public health. Do your duty and initiate the necessary procedures with regards to Sembol İnşaat firm,” the union said, adding that no inspection has been so far undertaken at the construction site.

In 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the AKM would be demolished and be replaced by a complex which includes an opera house, theater hall, a conference center and cinema on the site, near Gezi Park, the epicenter of the 2013 protests. 

Erdoğan has long argued for the need to replace the AKM, saying the building is not resistant to earthquakes. The AKM has been closed to the public for over 10 years due to disagreements regarding its renovation and infrastructure.

Opponents see the AKM's demolition as further proof that Erdoğan wants to reverse the secular order established by Atatürk in the 1920s and to reduce the use of the state founder’s name and image in public life.

Some 60 percent of the construction at the new site has been reported complete, as work continues on the new building.