Turkish citizens have expressed outrage after photographs emerged of an island near İstanbul in the Marmara Sea that has been almost entirely covered in buildings since construction on the island was permitted in 2015 by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Democracy and Freedom Island, formerly known as Yassıada, a small island in the Marmara Sea south of İstanbul, is now the setting for a 125-room hotel, 30 bungalows, a 1,200-person-capacity mosque, a conference center, a museum and exhibition centers.
Turkish social media users drew attention to the near total absence of trees on the island, which had been covered by forest before construction began.
In 1960, Turkey’s deposed Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was tried on the island before being executed by the coup makers on the nearby İmralı Island the next year. The name of the island was changed in 2013 due to its association with Menderes’ death.
Arif Parmaksız, the executive board chair of Customs and Tourism Enterprises (GTI) and chairman of the Nevşehir Chamber of Trade and Industry, said they acquired a 29-year lease for Yassıada and Sivriada islands a few years ago from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, according to a report by the pro-government Hürriyet daily.
“Democracy and Freedom Island was one of the projects of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He asked for the project to be finished by February 2019. Now we are working to finish it on time. The project was initiated by Justice and Development Party [AKP] Deputy Chairwoman Çiğdem Karaaslan and has been carried out by Mesa. The cost is estimated at 500 million Turkish lira,” Parmaksız said, adding that the island will be operated by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges’ (TOBB) GTI.
TOBB President Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu told Hürriyet that there would be at least 100 trees on the island when the project is finished.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has taken serious criticism over the years for the practices of construction firms under their rule. In 2013 nationwide protests were triggered by the police response to protests against the planned demolition of Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in İstanbul’s city center.