Municipal teams began demolition activities in the historic Yedikule Gardens, a UNESCO-protected site near the Marmara shoreline along the Byzantine-era ramparts surrounding the old city of Istanbul, on Jan. 13, despite protests from locals.
As the demolition began in the gardens located in the Mevlanakapı neighborhood just outside the historic city walls, farmers protested the municipal workers, arguing they had been given until March to collect their products and vacate the premises.
The tensions between the farmers and the municipal police escalated around noon and the police used tear gas to disperse the farmers and protestors, while using shields to prevent the locals from entering the site.
İsmail Karaca, who cultivates a plot in the gardens, said the municipal teams acted despite earlier promises.
“We have been working here, in this 4,000 square meters of land, since 1992. I do not have any debts; I have paid my rent regularly. This morning the demolition teams started to destroy our gardens without showing any official documents to us. Our hoeing machines, which cost thousands of [Turkish] Liras, were left outside after the demolition. We have also been living here and now our home is destroyed and we were left out in the cold” Karaca said.
The farmers said they had been given until March to vacate, even though the harvesting period ends in April, not March. “The demolition teams said they would continue their operations along the city walls” they added.
Yedikule Gardens have long been at the center of controversy, as Istanbul's Fatih Municipality had initiated a reconstruction project back in 2013 to convert it into a “park and green area.”
Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş had later announced that he rejected the plan in 2014.
Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality council deputy group head Abubekir Taşyürek from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Jan. 13 announced the operation had nothing to do with the rejected project.
Speaking at a municipality council meeting, Taşyürek said the Jan. 13 demolition was aimed at demolishing the barracks which caused “visual pollution.” He also recalled that the farmers were informed three months ago about the demolition and they had been told to evacuate the barracks in the area.