The referendum that will take place on 16 April 2017, will decide the fate of Erdogan’s regime. Turkish citizens will either vote “YES” to legitimize the current authoritarian regime or either vote “NO” to maintain what is left of the government’s democratic institutions and their mechanisms for checks and balances. The proposed constitution concentrates the power in the executive branch, which centers on the president. The current cabinet would be dissolved and new ministers (we do not know how many) would be directly appointed by the president. The legislative branch (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi, or, Grand National Assembly of Turkey) would resign most of its functions and powers to the executive branch. Under the new constitution, furthermore, the president would have the right to regulate the judiciary branch: he would have the power to appoint the members of the Supreme Court as well as prosecutors and members of the council of state.
If a majority of Turkey votes “YES,” the new constitution will have disastrous consequences for environmental movements and right to the city movements. These movements, which developed a significant capacity for mobilization in the wake of the Gezi Park uprisings of June 2013, organize their resistance on two main grounds: (1) taking legal actions against urban transformation projects that threaten the environment, displace and dispossess populations, destroy cultural and historical landmarks, or privatize public spaces; and (2) staging mass protests and rallies to raise awareness and communicate their opposition on a popular level.
Up until now, the bulk of these opposition movements’ legal actions have had positive results: the Council of State (Danıştay) recognized many of their claims and issued judgements that question the urban transformation projects’ purported public interest claims. In many of these cases, the Council’s decision to issue a stay of execution was not implemented, and the government carried on with its urban transformation projects. However, the Council’s decisions finding these projects unconstitutional and against public interest gave legitimacy to the opposition movements and their causes, while simultaneously delegitimizing the aggressive urban transformation projects.
The new constitution, however, would cast any such objections to urban transformation projects as nothing more than a complete formality, with no impact whatsoever. All the decisions affecting people’s rights to shelter, property, and the environment will be made by the centralized executive branch and will be carried out regardless of scientific objections or public disapproval. In other words, people will be excluded from all decision-making processes regarding their homes, their property, their living spaces, and their environment. Additionally, staging mass protests and rallies will also be deemed illegal and unconstitutional, and protesters who defend people’s right to shelter or environmental protection will no longer be tolerated as citizens exercising their democratic rights, but will be labeled as “terrorists” and “enemies of the state.”
What is at stake in this referendum is our right to defend our living spaces and our environment from the complete invasion of for-profit projects and private interests. What is at stake is our right to shelter as citizens and our right to determine what kind of living spaces we want for ourselves.
[Duygu Parmaksızoğlu is a doctoral candidate in the anthropology department at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. She is an urban anthropologist and has conducted field work in Istanbul over the past several years. Her work focuses on dispossession and displacement in the context of urban transformation schemes and the role of neoliberal populism in animating urbanization processes.]