Exactly one week ago, a destructive fire at Haydarpaşa trainstation shocked Istanbul. The station, located on the Asian side of the city, opened in 1908 and has since formed the most important Eastern gateway to Istanbul. In the past few years the trainstation had already been subject to intense discussion, but a growing fear that last week’s fire might give way to the privatization of the station and its surroundings have ignited an even fiercer debate.
Privatization and regeneration plans for Haydarpaşa station have been in the air for several years now. Two plans have been publicly announced, including that of the Çalık Group, a company known for its close links to the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). The company has indicated it wants turn the area around the station into a neo-Ottoman area with Venetian canals and copper towers that should become the new symbols of Istanbul.
Today ‘Haydarpaşa Solidarity’ – a group of NGOs, political organization and individuals concerned about the future of the station – showed its discontent with these kinds of plans. The group organized a demonstration urging the Municipality of Istanbul to keep Haydarpaşa trainstation out of private developers’ hands.
Chanting slogans like ‘Haydarpaşa belongs to the people – it cannot be sold’ and ‘AKP piss off – Haydarpaşa is ours’, a group of around 200 protestors walked from Kadıköy square to the trainstation. It was a colorful group, consisting of both young and old people affiliated to organizations such as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), the Black Sea Rebellion Platform (Karadeniz Isyandadır Platform) and the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (Ezilenlerin Sosyalist Partisi).
On the way to Haydarpaşa the protestors met many supporters. Three young men joined the group and asked the organization for some banners to carry. A middle aged busdriver uttered his support shouting: “You are right, Haydarpaşa belongs to us!” Several drivers enthusiastically blew their car horns while passing the walking crowd.
Upon arrival at the station, the group gathered around Nejat Yavaşoğulları, a well-known Turkish musician (and architect) who read out the official press statement of the Haydarpaşa Solidarity platform, claiming that “in Istanbul, earthquakes, fires, floods and poverty are used as a vehicle for legitimating the neoliberal system.” The press statement clearly reflected the fear of the Istanbul people that was so widely covered in the Turkish press in the past week.
However, considering this wide coverage of the issue last week, media presence at today’s Haydarpaşa Solidarity demonstration was limited. Turkish news websites haven’t picked up on the event yet. The only website that seems to have reported on the meeting is www.sendika.org, a website focusing on news from the Turkish labor union movement.
Maybe coverage won’t come until tomorrow, maybe today’s cold and rainy weather formed an obstacle, or maybe the press just wasn’t interested. Considering the extensive reporting on the issue last week, the first two reasons seem insufficient to explain the relative absence of the press to me though. The question of why the press appeared relatively disinterested therefore remains…