Abbas Karakaya

While Istanbul’s Anatolian-side suburb of Çekmeköy may be adjacent to the city’s northern forests, it is among the most lacking in active green areas out of all of Istanbul’s 39. districts. This is revealed in the Çekmeköy Municipality’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan. One of the 19 targets of the plan is to increase the per capita amount of green space in Çekmeköy. 

Given that even the municipality accepts the reality that the district needs more green space, there is the serious problem that three of the parks in Çekmeköy have been zoned for development. This article is not about those parks, however. It is about an area of forestland spanning 350,000 square meters that falls just within the borders of the district. 

Çekmeköy’s approach toward the forest is unfortunately similar to how it approaches parks. That is to say, these spaces are imagined as a potential construction site or a gas station. In other words, forests and parks are seen as a means of creating tenders and generating wealth. One of the most typical examples of this is the ‘Çekmekule/Çekmeköy Seyir Tepesi’ project (kule means ‘tower’ and seyir tepesi means ‘observation point’) which is planned for the area of forestland in question.

On the municipality’s website there are a few sentences about the proejct. “It will meet the needs for social facilities in the Çekmeköy region. A living space with parks, sports fields, and walking paths will be built. The ÇekmeTower that will be built in this space will enable one to easily observe the view of the surrounding area,” the website says. However, the project, which began in 2016, has not been completed and has been abandoned to rot away. 

The name of the project is also misleading, as it does not simply involve the construction of an observation tower, but a series of structures across the 350,000 square meter plot of forestland. These include a cafe, a restaurant, four parking lots, an astroturf, a basketball court, a tennis court, a volleyball net, among other structures. 

If it wasn’t enough that people have already created paths by walking in the forest, they laid out kilometers worth of keystone and bars for walking paths, and cut trees down to build these. Thousands of meters of cables and more than 100 lampposts have been installed, with concrete to reinforce the lampposts. Four massive vehicle entrances were also built in the area.  

Unfortunately, all of the structures that I have listed have been completed. For them to be built, trees were cut down and the forest has become riddled with holes. And again, unfortunately these structures have been abandoned, walls, doors, interior fittings have been broken in pieces, some have even burned down. All that remains on its feet is giant steel scaffolding. It is unfathomable why so much steel and iron materials were used for the purpose of hiking in the forest. 

The plunder and wounding of a forest is not the end of the story. At the same time there is massive exploitation at hand: public funds were used wrongly and has harmed the public as a result. Similar to how there is a search for funds to fight coronavirus, everyone responsible for creating this public damage should pay the price. The money that will be paid should go to people who cannot stay at home and are forced to work, such as healthcare workers. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led Çekmeköy municipality says that with the tower that was to be built, a view of the area could be easily observed. However, this is a comical and odd situation. The area where the tower was to be built is already on a hill with a view. Who thought of the idea to cut down trees and built a 15 meter tall, 50 meter wide steel heap that looks like an old coal factory? 

The project was prepared and launched as collaborative effort between the Çekmeköy municipality and the Istanbul Greater City Municipality (İBB) prior to the election main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. In December of 2019, İmamoğlu visited the site, but wasn’t shown all of it. My guess is that during İmamoğlu’s visit, he was not shown the abandoned structures or told about the destructive effects on the forest and that the project was simply a mechanism of generating wealth. Perhaps due to this lack of information, Imamoğlu gave the orders on that day to finish the project right away. 

At the end of the day, we say that it is good that this project, which brought harm to the forest, nature and people of Çekmeköy, was left unfinished. Because we want it to be cancelled immediately. We want this forestland in Çekmeköy to stay as a forest. We want this forest to live in the way that God or Mother Nature gave it to us. Furthermore, just as we used the forest up until the present, we want the trees, plants, birds, ants, and river to continue to use it. If you illuminate every area of the forest as if it is daylight, how will its birds make nests, how will they have shelter there? Has coronavirus not shown us once more that people are not the only owners of this world?