Kadir Topbaş caused waves when he suddenly announced his resignation last Friday, 22 Sep. At a hastily arranged press conference, the Mayor, who had held the post since first being elected back in March 2004, told journalists: “A man can forgive everything but being betrayed.”
The mild-mannered veteran politician did not openly criticise the Justice and Development Party (AKP), repeatedly telling the media he remained a loyal member with no intention leaving his party, but Topbaş was clearly agitated at the conference. His comments insinuated he had been stabbed in the back, which further fuelled rumours that the 72-year-old mayor had fallen foul of his fellow AKP councillors after vetoing their lucrative, but controversial construction projects.
For months, Topbaş has also faced difficulties because of his son-in-law Ömer Faruk Kavurmacı, who married into the family in 2001. Kavurmacı is accused of being a Gulenist, now a banned group in Turkey. He was initially arrested, then released from jail after it triggered his epilepsy, drawing major criticism from the public about the privileged treatment AKP relatives were receiving compared to others arrested and held on remand since the attempted coup last summer. The outcry led to Kavurmacı being re-arrested in June.
An architect by profession, Topbaş has overseen radical change of the city, which is home to 15 million Turks, and the cultural and economic hub of the country. Back in 2011, he told the FT: “Instead of a classic industrial city, Istanbul is making itself into a high technology, value added industrial city.”
During his term in office, the metropolis’ public transport links have improved significantly. He extended the city’s metro from 45km in 2004 to 141km in 2013, and has green-lighted further major development that will create 400km of metro line by 2019.
Four years ago, he presided over the historic opening of Marmaray – the subterranean rail tunnel beneath the Bosphorus that links Asia to Europe – and in 2016, the city received a much needed third bridge, the Yavuz Sultan Selim, to help relieve cross-continental road traffic.
Under his watch, the city has experienced a huge construction boom too, often at the expense of historic buildings and green spaces. Sulukule, the famed Romany district in Fatih, was razed to the ground, while Tarlabaşı, near Taksim which used to house the city’s former Greek residents, is transformed beyond all recognition. The battle to develop Gezi Park, located in Taksim, which led to mass riots in 2013, continues.
During his resignation speech, Topbaş said: “We tried not to make mistakes. Mistakes and betrayal should not be confused. Those who betray are never forgiven. But I am proud.”
Prior to serving as Istanbul’s mayor, Topbaş was mayor of the city’s central Beyoğlu district from 1999 to 2004. On Thursday, the mayor of another Istanbul district took over the city’s biggest post.
Mevlüt Uysal, an AKP council leader for Başakşehir, beat Ekrem İmamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and leader of Beylikdüzü Council. There were three rounds of voting by assembly members of the Greater Istanbul Council, which are drawn from the city’s district municipalities. In the final run-off, Uysal beat İmamoğlu 179 to 125 votes.
The newly elected Mayor took office the next day with a swearing-in ceremony that Topbaş did not attend. For his first speech as Istanbul Mayor, Uysal said: “This is a big honour for me and an equally big responsibility and duty. I will try to be worthy of your trust.”