Plateau in front of the Istanbul municipality hall could be mistaken for a pop art exhibition: plastic models of people, in a glass box, positioned as performing their ablution and getting ready to join the fight against the coup attempt of July 15, 2016. The municipality building was one of the hot spots of the night of July 15. To commemorate the fight that night, the models of bearded men were put there. It is not unusual to see real people praying by the models. 

These days, there is another struggle across the models, as a group of vegans stays in tents and protests for the rights of the horses at the so called, Princes’ Islands. 

Horse carriages have lately become a hot topic in Istanbul. In the Princes’ Islands, the islands of Istanbul in the Marmara Sea, motor vehicles are not allowed, and the public transportation is provided by the horse carriages. Back in the day, when the islands were only visited by people who owned houses there and only few tourists, horses used to make only a small number of tours a day. It was a jolly ride, and carriage owners were still earning for their living.

Over the years, the islands started becoming busier. During bayram days, ferries are transporting from the mainland for free, so local tourists flood the streets of the islands. On regular days, mainly Middle Eastern tourists fill the streets, usually not eager to walk, so they like traveling in horse carriages. Long lines to hop on the carriages have become a regular scene. Long lines and thousands of tourists means higher earnings for the carriage owners. Long hours and exhausting tours for the horses pulling the carriages on the steep hills of the islands have usually not been taken into account.

Horses tumbling down and breathing their last breaths, while still being harnessed to the carriage has also turned into an everyday scene. Weak, limping horses trying to pull crowded families up the hills, often looks like a horror scene from a dystopian movie. Animal rights activists have been trying to reach out to the islands and protest the situation. However, horse carriage owners have proven to be a strong mob. Even people who are only trying to take a video of the state of the horses are usually being attacked. 

The latest disaster was the glanders disease spreading among the horses. There is no recovery from glanders for horses. 81 horses on the islands that had the disease were killed. The governorate of Istanbul banned horses to be harnessed in the carriages for 3 months, only to be able to make the necessary health checks. The carriage owners were mad at the decision, as this job is their only income. In order to radicalize their anger, the owners released the horses from the stables. Starving animals were digging through garbage looking for food. 

I asked the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu, how he plans to resolve the problem. He said that the residents of the islands want to keep carriages in a symbolic number of 35. However, he added that he is even against this symbolic number, and is for abolishing the horse carriages for good. Instead of the carriages, İmamoğlu suggested to introduce electric vehicles, and add more bicycle lanes. He added that the city is working on the matter.

Until electric vehicles reach the islands, it seems horses of Istanbul will be trying to feed themselves out of the garbage, trying to survive the city’s windy winter.