Erdoğan takes control of Prince’s Islands away from Istanbul Municipality, hands it to gov't

Erdoğan's move to declare Istanbul’s famous Prince’s Islands as an "environmental protection zone" wrests control of the Islands away from the opposition-led municipality and hands it over to the Environment and Urbanization Ministry, said Gürkan Akgün, the head of the municipality's construction affairs department.

This file photo shows Büyükada Pier.

Duvar English 

A presidential decree signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared the Marmara Sea and Prince’s Islands off the shore of Istanbul as an "environmental protection zone," daily Cumhuriyet reported on Nov. 5. 

However, the decision has some pernicious effects as it wrests control of the Islands away from the opposition-led municipality and hands it over to the Environment and Urbanization Ministry, said the head of Construction and Urbanization Department for Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB), Gürkan Akgün.

The Marmara Sea is at a critical breaking point due to pollution and the effects of overpopulation. Last summer, grey-green sea snot polluted the Sea’s waters as its oxygen levels dropped and marine life died out in droves. Images of the snot drew outrage from the Turkish populace. Experts pointed to ill-regulated factories and industrial centers in the Marmara region, as well as the rapid urbanization of Istanbul, both of which have been encouraged under the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government.

Therefore, the Nov. 4-dated presidential decision to declare some portions of the Marmara the “Marmara Sea and Islands Special Environmental Protection Area” came as a surprise to some. However, according to Akgün, it shouldn’t. It is just another step by the government, he said, to take control over an area with promising tourism and resource potential.

Akgün shared his analysis of the rationale behind the decision on social media. 

“The authority to make and approve zoning plans in the Islands was taken from the İBB and passed to the Ministry,” he wrote. He said that since the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) administration took control of Istanbul in 2019, they have worked to develop zoning and environmental protection plans for the Islands. However, these were all quickly shut down. 

Now, however, the Ministry, not the city of Istanbul, will have the authority to draw up these plans. 

“With today's decision, the authority to make, approve and carry out [zoning and protection related activities] on the Islands has been passed to the Environment and Urbanization Ministry,” he wrote. 

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, he said, has now lost critical access to the mechanisms necessary to protect the Marmara Sea. It is not the Islands that pollute the sea, he said, and re-zoning them alone will do little.

“Inter-agency coordination, strategic planning, and integrated coastal management are required,” he wrote. “And there is no real obstacle to doing this.” 

He also pointed to Yassıada and Sivriada, behind the Prince’s Islands, which were taken over by the Environment and Urbanization Ministry in 2013. These islands were far from “environmentally protected” - they have been turned into ultra-developed “Congress and Tourism Center” as of 2015, made entirely of cement. 

The takeover of the Prince’s Islands by the Ministry does not bode well for their protection. The Islands have long been an enclave of religious and cultural diversity, waterside escapes calm enough to serve as a mini-break from the bustle of Istanbul. However, now that these have been declared “protected areas” by a presidential decree, they can be developed for mass tourism and recreation. Experts point out that one needs to look no further than the mega-hotels developed on areas burnt by forest fire’s in Turkey’s south, or even just to Yassıada and Sivriada, to see how a government takeover of the area might end.