The 3rd Bridge

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Population mobilizes to protect historical neighborhood threatened by third Bosphorus bridge

The planned construction of a third suspended bridge over the Bosphorus is drawing fierce opposition, after details of the plans emerged, revealing that the bridge would all but destroy the picturesque village of Arnavutköy. Eighteen kilometers of expensive tunnels and viaducts would be needed to connect the main highway surrounding Istanbul with the one-kilometer bridge, spanning the Bosphorus between Arnavutköy on the European shore and Kandilli on the Asian side.

Arnavutköy (a name which means Albanian village) is a neighborhood with a rich and long history, where Greeks, Armenians, Jews used to live side by side with the Muslim population. Although members of these minorities still live in the village, Arnavutköy, these days, is better known for its friendly atmosphere, its fish restaurants and bars which attract tourists and locals alike, as well as for the many beautiful Ottoman wooden houses that have been preserved in this protected, historical neighborhood. 

A traditional wooden house at ArnavutkoyThe main pillar of the projected bridge would sit at the bottom of the main street and other pillars, supporting the connecting road, would force the destruction of entire rows of old houses. This is rather ironic, given the fact that renovation work on any of these historical houses is currently subjected to stringent controls and whatever modernization is carried out on the inside, the exterior has to retain the original Ottoman design. The bridge project also contravenes several laws aimed at protecting historical sites and the Bosphorus area.

Other alternatives put forward had received widespread support, such as a project to build an underwater tunnel, linking Sarayburnu, in the old city, to Harem, on the Asian shore. Although the tunnel requires a bigger initial investment, it would include a rail link allowing for fast and efficient public transport, without further clogging the city, already choked by pollution and heavy traffic.

Despite the controversy, the Turkish authorities have, quietly and discreetly, pushed the project forward. The Ministry of Public Works announced that the bridge, a build-operate-transfer project aimed at international investors, would be put to tender within weeks.

But in Arnavutköy, the community is mobilizing against the project. Encouraged by the fact that in the Aegean town of Bergama, ordinary citizens have recently managed to stop a gold production project that risked leaking cyanide into their water table, the villagers are knocking at all the doors, organizing protests and looking at all the legal options open to them, to save their neighborhood. 

by  NICOLE POPE       6 January 1999            



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