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Ankara’s crazy plan

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Turkophiles have no doubt heard of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s “çilgin projesi” or “crazy plan” to build a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, announced several weeks ago to great fanfare and head-scratching. A bit less conspicuous was this week’s announcement of a “crazy plan” for Ankara as well. No, they’re not stretching a canal from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean by way of the capital city.  The prime minister’s plan, as unveiled Wednesday, is to make Ankara a “world capital” with a series of projects, including new defense facilities, a new giant courthouse (perhaps they’ll make it the largest in Asia, to match Istanbul’s “largest courthouse in Europe”?), a new football stadium (they already have a pretty darn new one, built in Sincan in 2008. Virtually no one goes there, and the city’s two Super League football teams play at the old 19 Mayis stadium, because Sincan is fantastically inconvenient) and new top-of-the-line hospitals. Erdo also announced a plan to create a second city in Ankara, similar to the two new cities he announced would be created in Istanbul.

Today’s Zaman has even more of the laundry list of plans Erdo cited for the “improvement” of Ankara. It all seems a bit odd to me, although I suppose if everything succeeds Ankara’s airport will finally start seeing the amount of usage it was designed for. If ever there was an underused airport, Esenboğa’s it.

I understand the motivation behind the announcement is probably in large part the upcoming elections, and I’d be surprised if the entire project comes to fruition, but I do wish the focus was more on improving the city that already exists. What about opening the section of the subway system that’s been nearly completed since before I first arrived in Ankara five years ago? A subway rail link between ODTU and Kizilay would have a direct, immediate positive impact for a lot of residents. Extend the line to Bilkent and the impact would be even larger. Then maybe ODTU could start operating its intracampus monorail, already built but as of my last time on campus nonoperational because it was built to ferry students to the subway entrance, which has been fenced off since at least early 2006.

Or instead of building “the biggest zoo in the Middle East,” how about turning Ankara’s zoo into the best zoo in the Middle East? Just two-and-a-half months ago a tiger escaped its enclosure at the Ankara Zoo and killed a lion. Two years ago, a boa constrictor escaped its cage. Of course, one can compare that with the recent escapades of a cobra and a peacock at the Bronx Zoo, but perhaps Ankara should strive to a higher standard of exotic animal husbandry. Sure, people may flock to a big zoo. But people will really flock, in droves, to a zoo in Turkey that takes proper care of its animals, makes an effort to show animals in their proper habitat rather than in concrete cages and pairs the animals on display with trained naturalists and well-done interpretive exhibits. Maybe a section called “Wild Anatolia,” featuring animals native to various parts of Anatolia and explaining conservation efforts?

Nope, instead Ankara’s slated to go big. I do love the city, and I’m a fan of investment in its infrastructure, but it feels like this particular crazy project was brainstormed mostly as a campaign trail scene, rather than as a considered plan for a healthy, successful city. Çilgindir.


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