A three-month ban has been imposed on horse-drive carriages operating on Istanbul's Princes' Islands, following a protracted controversy surrounding the poor conditions of the horses, which has resulted in a fierce debate between activists and the carriage operators who earn a living from transporting tourists and visitors around the islands, which are car-free.
The decision was made by Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya, after it was determined that 81 horses on the islands were recently buried on the islands after succumbing to Glanders, a respiratory disease specific to horses, donkeys and mules. Shortly thereafter, the areas that the carriage drivers assembled in to wait for passengers were emptied out and barricades were installed around them by police.
“This is a radical decision aimed at nullifying [this practice]. We want our friends (the carriage drivers) to be aware of our resoluteness. Of course they say that they earn money from this job and that it is what enables them to bring bread home. We are aware of this. For that reason [the decision] was made during the month when our islands have the lowest population. There are inspection results for some horses that we are waiting on. We will continue to act based on these results,” said the Princes' Islands governor Mustafa Ayhan in a statement late last week.
Seen by some as an iconic and integral part of the Princes' Islands, which are a highly popular tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike, and which are home to several thousand people who live there year round or spend their summers on the islands, the carriages are fiercely opposed by activists and environmentalists due to the conditions that the horses live and work in.
Hundreds of horses working on the islands die every year, and a recent report from the AFP prepared by journalists who visited the stables indicated that the conditions horses lived in were terrible and that bones of dead horses were found nearby.
Hıdır Ünal, president of a chamber representing the carriage drivers, said in a statement to local media that they would not be abandoning the area and that the decision taken by the city affects the livelihoods of 300 families. Ünal said that if the authorities do not come to an agreement with the drivers and opt to permanently ban the horses from powering carriages on the islands, together with their wives and children drivers would launch a hunger strike and threatened to set the horses free on the islands.
While many of the horses on the island are officially registered, an equal number are believed to be unregistered and that some of them have been illegally smuggled onto the islands via boats.
“During our tenure I cannot recall an incident of horse smuggling. In terms of the boats and ferries that come here, our transit entry points are clear, and we conduct inspections at these points. But life continues 24 hours a day and this is an island. If they say “we are bringing them from different entry points” that that is something else, and we we wouldn't know about this. But we do conduct inspections at transit entry points and do not allow smuggling,” said Princes' Islands President Erdem Gül.