The “illegal organizations that attempted to topple the government” will be unmasked and brought to justice, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told members of Turkey’s business and political elite at the groundbreaking ceremony for a $30 billion new airport on Saturday in Turkey’s financial capital İstanbul.
On Saturday, Erdoğan, Cabinet members and businessmen participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for İstanbul’s new airport, which is planned to be one of the world’s largest and comes with a price tag of $30 billion. Erdoğan called the new airport, İstanbul’s third, a “victory monument” in his speech in which he hurled insult at political dissenters. The government is “determined to find those who attempted to plot a coup … to justice,” he said.
“We know where they hide,” a fiery Erdoğan told an enthusiastic crowd. The prime minister also attacked the opposition and Gezi protesters, calling them “the puppets of foreign plotters.”
During the countrywide anti-government Gezi protests last year, some in the government went as far as to claim that countries like Germany were stoking tensions on the Turkish street because they wanted to prevent the country from realizing ambitious infrastructure “mega projects” like the third airport.
Erdoğan’s economic adviser Yiğit Bulut said last year that “the protests are paid for by German airline Lufthansa, which is afraid that 100 million passengers will be diverted from Germany to Turkey by İstanbul’s new airport.”
The new airport is planned to have three runways and an initial capacity of 90 million passengers a year, to be extended to 150 million. The first stage will be operational in October 2017, Erdoğan said at Saturday’s ceremony. The government, he continued, is aware that the Gezi protests and the corruption probe were meant to delay Turkey’s multi-billion-dollar projects.
“We have successfully dealt with these threats and as you can see these projects are back on track now. … But we will not settle for this; we will bring these traitors to justice,” Erdoğan asserted. The prime minister once again lashed out at the so-called “parallel structure,” which he claims is made up of Hizmet movement members trying to undermine his government. He has, however, so far failed to come up with concrete evidence to support his allegations.
Erdoğan’s government plans to replace İstanbul Atatürk Airport with the new airport to the north of the city. Setbacks, however, in construction, and the role of a controversial businessman with close ties to Erdoğan, have pushed back the schedule.
Although earthworks have begun, the third airport project still faces a number of problems.
Earlier, financing concerns and legal wrangling over the project’s environmental impact led to delays, and in February of this year, a Turkish court sought further review of the airport project’s environmental impact report (ÇED).
The government later said the project would continue as planned, but disputes over the ownership of the construction site caused further delays. The site had been scheduled to be handed over to the consortium in January, but this did not happen until June.
A recent proposal to build a new terminal at İstanbul Atatürk Airport also confused investors. Turkish airport builder and operator TAV Airports Holding, which operates İstanbul Atatürk, said last week it was in talks with Turkey’s state airport authority to build a 100 million euro ($136 million) international terminal at İstanbul Atatürk Airport. TAV said the new terminal would boost capacity at the airport by more than 10 million passengers. The airport handled 51 million passengers in 2013, an increase of 14 percent from the year before. Passenger traffic through İstanbul Atatürk Airport has risen sharply in recent years as flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) has expanded routes around the world, using İstanbul as its hub. The city’s second international airport, Sabiha Gökçen, on the Asian side, does not have enough terminals to handle growing traffic.
In May of last year, the Turkish Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa-Kalyon consortium won the tender for the new airport, under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model and including a 25-year lease, with a 22.15 billion euro offer. The winning consortium is regarded as close to Erdoğan’s government, which is still fighting a corruption inquiry that became public on Dec. 17, 2013. The opposition has claimed that Cengiz İnşaat owner Mehmet Cengiz’s tax bill of TL 424.4 million had been forgiven through an agreement with the Ministry of Finance.
And the public was outraged after one of Cengiz’s phone conversations, recorded as part of legal surveillance for the graft investigation, was leaked. On the recording, Cengiz says, “We will f*** this nation.” Cengiz was referring to separate tender proceedings in the phone conversation. Erdoğan, standing next to Cengiz on Saturday, said the country should thank the companies building the new airport.