Erdoğan challenges court ruling against Prime Ministry building construction

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has challenged a court decision reinstating an Ankara forest where the government is currently finishing the construction of a new complex for the Prime Ministry as a first-degree environmentally protected zone, reports daily Today’s Zaman.

On Wednesday, Erdoğan dismissed those who called on the Ankara Governor’s Office to halt construction of the Prime Ministry complex on the Atatürk Forestry Farm (AOÇ) following a court decision on Tuesday, saying that the government will open the Prime Ministry complex in a matter of months.

“If they have the power, let them destroy it,” Erdoğan said despite a court decision on Tuesday that requires a halt to construction.

The government can appeal the court decision, but the construction of the complex should be halted and the site sealed until a final decision is delivered regarding the fate of the construction.

Erdoğan said the government “had done no illegal thing” and that they’re planning to open the complex either in April or May. “I will open it and sit inside it,” Erdoğan said.

On Feb. 17, the Ankara 11th Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Ankara Regional Conservation of Cultural Properties Council to reduce the degree of environmental protection granted the historic Ankara forest, in effect halting the construction of the new Prime Ministry building.

The court annulled the decision made on Feb. 2, 2012, which changed the first-degree environmentally protected zone to a third-degree protected zone. The controversial rezoning of the AOÇ allowed construction on the property. On Tuesday, the court notified the Prime Ministry and Culture and Tourism Ministry about the decision. Although the government had to halt the construction immediately after they were notified of the decision, construction continued on Wednesday.

Protected areas include places where important historic events such as national events or battles took place that must be preserved, with the natural environment left unchanged.

The details of the construction of the new Prime Ministry complex have been kept secret, and only photographs of the construction site taken from the air are publicly available. Photographs of the complex, which some reports have described as similar to the White House or the Pentagon, show the progress of the construction since it began two years ago.

The Atatürk Forestry Farm, often called the lungs of Ankara, is an expansive recreational farming area that houses a zoo, several small agricultural farms, greenhouses, restaurants, a dairy farm and a brewery.

Following the 2012 decision to reduce the AOÇ’s degree of environmental protection, the Architects’ Chamber, Chamber of Environmental Engineers (ÇMO), Chamber of Urban Planners (ŞPO), Chamber of Landscape Architects and Chamber of Agricultural Engineers (ZMO) filed a complaint against the Culture and Tourism Ministry in a bid to reverse the rezoning and stop construction. The Prime Ministry intervened in the case on behalf of the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

The Prime Ministry has only one month to appeal the 11th Ankara Administrative Court’s recent verdict, but it is widely believed that the Council of State will cancel the ruling in favor of the Prime Ministry because of a recently endorsed law that allows public buildings to be constructed in protected zones.

In 2012, the Court of Accounts released a report stating that the AOÇ had been misused, the latest of example of which was the reported construction of the new Prime Ministry complex.

The report underlines that the farm is part of the heritage of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and is of great importance. The report also says the AOÇ should be protected and managed according to the main goals of the farm. According to the Court of Accounts, the AOÇ’s territory should be returned to the state.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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