Story of Istanbul for last 25 years

soL columnist Ali Ufuk Arıkan writes the story of the last 25 years of Istanbul to remind the history of the city marked by corruption stories while Turkey was dead set on yesterday's metropolitan mayoral election
Monday, 24 June 2019 14:23

Following the annulment of the March 31 elections, the Istanbul debate has moved to June 23 election. With a population of around 16 million and having great opportunities for rent-seeking capitalists, Istanbul has been governed by Erdoğan and his party in the last 25 years.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was the mayoral candidate for Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in 1994 from the Islamist Refah Partisi, made his first “big” debut in politics that year. He won the elections with a difference of 120 thousand votes, claiming victory against his rivals, Ilhan Kesici from right-wing ANAP, now a PM from CHP, and Zülfü Livaneli from left-wing SHP, now from CHP as well.

After the 1994 victory of Erdoğan, a network of rent-seeking activities established in Istanbul would be one of the most important determinants in the process that created the AKP today. On the one hand, Erdoğan sent "moderate" messages to big capitalist groups and said "we are in the same ship". He also treated pro-Erdoğan capitalists with big tenders.

Albayraklar Group, for example, became one of the first addresses of Erdoğan's tenders during his term as mayor. While the natural address of capitalist groups' tender winning was Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the company, which had capital worth 1 billion liras increased the amount to 1 trillion capital by 1998.

Erdoğan delivered a speech in Siirt on 12 December 1997. He was tried after this speech and had to leave the mayor's seat due to his prison sentence.

After being sentenced to 4 months in prison for a poem containing Islamic propaganda, Erdoğan actually returned to the political scene stronger. In the meantime, Ali Müfit Gürtuna from the same party came to the mayor's seat.

Even if Erdoğan went to jail and subsequently lost his seat, the rent-seeking network had operated without interruption.


An investigation operation was initiated against the Albayrak group and the tenders given by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The investigation on irregular tender processes included charges such as the Albayrak Group started to receive so many tenders from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality with the election of Erdoğan as the mayor, Albayraklar after receiving the transportation tender of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality started to operate 737 minibusses and buses under a false license, the tender of the electro-mechanical infrastructure of Istanbul's subway awarded to Albayrak Group that was not technically competent.

According to the sources at that time, the material basis of Erdoğan's political party he would establish later came from the proceeds of corruption.


Ali Müfit Gürtüna, who took over the mayor's seat from Erdoğan, dismissed Binali Yıldırım, recent Istanbul mayoral candidate of the ruling AKP, for engaging in unlawful activities.

Yıldırım was dismissed in 1999 on the grounds that he gave the management of Istanbul's fast ferries' kiosks to his uncle and forged documents.

In 2004, Kadir Topbaş took the seat from Gürtüna, who was in a dispute with Erdoğan. Topbaş's office term continued until September 2017, when he was forced to resign on the order of Erdoğan.

Topbaş had been in the office for 13 years, a period when millions were transferred by the municipality to pro-government Islamic foundations, great support was given to Fethullah Gülen network, Istanbul was turned into a building site through giant tenders and the capitalist groups made big profits.

The list of irregularities is so long that only some of them have been reported in the documents of the Court of Accounts.

For instance, during an investigation on the General Directorate of Istanbul's Electric Tramway and Tunnel Establishments', the inspectors found illegal operations worth 100 million euros.

There was great corruption by wiping the parking slips in Ispark. Millions of Turkish liras of corruption were found in at least 48 separate terminals. Proceedings of corruption reached 90 million liras, according to the sources.

AKP had been actively using different ways not to lose Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality to the parliamentary main opposition CHP, which won the mayoral election in March 31 elections.

The moves of the ruling AKP led to the annulment of metropolitan mayoral election and a revote was set for June, 23, in which the CHP candidate won once again. What makes the loss heavy seems to be tens of thousands of bids, public resources that can be identified with hundreds of billions, and the authority to spend them.