Former Istanbul municipality allocated 38 buildings to AKP-linked foundations in four years

Over the course of four years, from 2015 to 2019, when Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) ran the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 38 properties were allocated for the use of foundations linked to the President.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and his son Bilal Erdoğan are seen in this file photo.

Duvar English

Over the course of four years that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) controlled Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, the Metropolitan Municipality allocated the use of 38 public buildings to party-affiliated NGOs and foundations via lease or allocation, daily Cumhuriyet reported on Oct. 15. 

The largest beneficiaries of these allocations were the Youth and Education Service Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal, the Turkish Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), which Bilal Erdoğan sits on the advisory board of, and the religiously conservative ENSAR foundation.

Between 2015 and 2019, four buildings were allocated directly and 34 were allocated by joint service protocol to Erdoğan-linked foundations. As of 2021, some of these buildings, such as the harbor building on one of Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands, have still not been evacuated despite the end of their lease. Others are in the process of being expropriated by legal process, while some have been reclaimed by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, now controlled by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

According to information provided to Cumhuriyet by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, one foundation that received several properties via joint service protocol was TÜRGEV. Despite Istanbul being controlled by the opposition CHP for over two years, the properties they were given are still under legal dispute. TÜRGEV was given dormitories in Mecidiyeköy, Avcılar, Şişli, and Fatih, all on the European side of Istanbul, which the municipality requested be returned in August 2023. All buildings are still in the midst of legal procedures - while the buildings in Avcılar, Şişli, and Fatih have been returned, the building in Mecidiyeköy is still occupied.

TÜGVA, which has been in the news recently for its links to figures in prominent government posts, was given twelve properties to use as “representative offices” throughout Istanbul. While the majority of these buildings were returned to the municipality in 2020, one building in Üskudar, on the Asian side of Istanbul, is still occupied and the tenants refuse to vacate and hand the building back to the city. 

Turkey’s ENSAR foundation, an Islamic foundation linked to the ruling AKP and known for a child sex abuse scandal from 2012-2015, also received several properties from the municipality. At least three of these - in Ataşehir, Çatalca, and Avcılar - have not been given back to the municipality despite requests for their return in 2019. Another five properties, primarily used as dorms, were returned to the city but the legal process over their ownership and use continues. 

The Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi foundation, a religious foundation in Istanbul named after the Sufi Emir Aziz Mahmut Hüdayi, received six buildings from the municipality, all dormitories. None of these buildings have been returned, despite requests from the CHP municipality, and legal processes are ongoing.

Properties were given via joint use protocol to five other foundations, including one linked to religious İmam Hatip schools, lauded by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and the AKP. Some of these properties have yet to be returned.

Four properties also formerly owned by the municipality were leased to party-affiliated foundations via direct allocation. The return of these properties is trickier - the nature of direct allocation means these foundations have ownership of these properties for a set period of time - in the majority of these cases, 25 years. 

Two properties in Pendik, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, and Fatih, on the European side of Istanbul, were granted to the İlim Yayma Cemiyeti in 2018 and 2014, respectively. The religious education foundation has close ties to the Diyanet and to the AKP. The foundation will have use of these properties until 2039, for the property in Fatih, and 2043, for the property in Pendik.

The TÜGVA foundation, linked directly to the Erdoğan family, received one of these direct allocations. The foundation received property for use on the European side of Istanbul, in Fatih, in 2018 for use until 2043.