Istanbul's Validebağ Grove in danger due to AKP district municipality's 'rehab project'

Istanbul's Validebağ Grove is under the threat of environmental destruction by an AKP municipal improvement project that is thought to be geared toward generating profit. Validebağ Volunteers Association has been protesting the project, saying the grove is a first-degree natural protection area.

Eren Topuz / DUVAR

A recent improvement project concerning Istanbul's Validebağ Grove could risk environmental destruction in the area in order to generate profit for private businesses. 

The "landscaping and rehabilitation project" is undertaken jointly by the government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s Üsküdar Municipality. 

The budget, which has a budget of 30 million Turkish Liras, was announced to the public following the visit of Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum to the area on the Anatolian side.

"As the ministry, we will provide grants for half of this 30-million-lira project, and loans for the remainder," Kurum tweeted on April 24.

Validebağ Volunteers Association Chair Arif Belgin noted that the grove is the largest green space on the Anatolian side of the city that "belongs to living creatures," as the only larger amount of greenery is in the nearby Karacaahmet Cemetery. 

The AKP district municipality has included parking lots, hiking trails and open-air theaters in the project, but also plan to open food stations at the entrances, Belgin said. 

"Then they'll build restrooms, put up benches, throw up some chairs and tables. These are all to generate profit. What's more important is that this is a first-degree natural protection area," Belgin said. 

Validebağ Volunteers Association has been handing out informative pamphlets in the grove, and 90 percent of the people they speak to are also opposed to the project, Belgin added. 

Validebağ Volunteers Association member Neşe Taşan noted that there was a 2018 project to build a "Nation's Garden" in the grove, about which there is still an ongoing legal battle. 

"The lawsuit is not going in their favor, so they just changed the name," the volunteer added. 

The project aims to install light poles across the grove, which will require concrete and create light pollution, and eventually repel the birds who live in the trees, Taşan said.