Zülfikar Doğan
Oct 28 2018

Istanbul’s new airport likely to be named after Erdoğan, sources say

As Turkey prepares to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the founding of the republic on October 29, speculation in political circles has been rife that Istanbul’s huge new airport, which is set to by officially opened by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the same day, will be named after the president.

The symbolism of such a move is evident to everyone in Turkey: if rumours are true, the new Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Airport will replace the city’s airport named after the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This would mark the end of the age of Atatürk, and usher in the age of Erdoğan.

The president’s name already graces the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in Rize, the city his family came from, and the stadium in Kasımpaşa, the working-class district in Istanbul where he spent his childhood.

The opposition has already chosen not to attend the ceremony in protest of its political message: it is the first time in 95 years of republican history that the day will be celebrated outside Ankara, the capital city chosen by Atatürk. Instead the ceremony is to take place in the old Ottoman capital.

This is already a move that symbolically and politically marks the end of an era. To top it off, Erdoğan will cut the ribbon on a new airport that is to be among the world’s largest, and which will bear his name.

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure avoided our questions on the airport’s name, but did say that it would be determined by the ministry together with the consortium of construction companies that built the airport and presented for Erdoğan’s approval by Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turan and General Directorate of State Airports chief Funda Ocak.

The airport’s new name will reportedly be announced at Turan’s welcoming speech on 29 October before the plaque is hung on the airport.

Ocak’s twitter post on the subject, in which she thanked Erdoğan for bringing the “masterpiece” of the airport to Turkey, has been interpreted as one indication that it will bear his name.

 

Signs, however, had already been pointing in that direction for some time. Ahmet Arslan, the transport minister for the previous administration, made some of the first official remarks in this direction. “Why shouldn’t the airport be named after President Erdoğan, looking at what he has done in 16 years (heading the government) and during his time as mayor of Istanbul before that,” Arslan said.

Erdoğan himself has already made it clear during a televised interview that the airport will not carry Atatürk’s name.

“There already has been an Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, and there are in many other places. It would be far more appropriate to give this one a new name,” he said.

Asked whether it would be put to the public to decide on this name, Erdoğan said his government already made every decision after consultation, and this issue too would be decided after taking counsel at a high level – but not directly through a public poll.

Meanwhile, a news story stating that the airport will take the president’s name has been published on the front page of Yeni Akit, a conservative Islamist newspaper with close links to Erdoğan’s government, though the story did not name at source.

Another possibility was put forward by Sevilay Yılman, a journalist for the pro-government outlet HaberTürk, who did cite “trusted sources.” The airport will be named after Abdul Hamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman, Yılman said.

An alternative reported by both the news site Airport Haber and the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s official site is that it will be named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the 15th century Ottoman sultan who conquered Istanbul.

Whatever the name of the airport turns out to be, as the country’s top government officials, judges, and diplomats prepare for the first Republic Day celebration to be held outside Ankara, politicians from the opposition will be conspicuous for their absence.

The first opposition leader to make it known she would not attend was Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist Good Party. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will likewise stay away from the ceremony. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has faced severe repression under Erdoğan’s recent administrations, has for a long time not received invitations to official events in any case.

Most striking will be the absence of Devlet Bahçeli, whose far-right Nationalist Movement Party entered an alliance with Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the last elections and who had been present at previous events boycotted by the other opposition leaders.

In other words, the airport’s grand opening and the 29 October Republic Day celebration held directly afterward will be attended only by Erdoğan, his party and its supporters, and the rifts dividing Turkish society are consequently bound to grow ever deeper.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.