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22 September 2016

The Dramatic Impact of Istanbul's Third Bridge

22 September 2016 - Written by Laurence Cornet

Upon the opening of Istanbul's third bridge stretching across the Bosphorus Strait, Kursat Bayhan travelled to the region to document the stark social and environmental impression its construction has left.

© Kursat Bayhan, from the series, Last Exit

On 28 August, 2016, Istanbul was opening, in the very north of the city, a third bridge across the Bosphorus – a mega project, as President Erdogan likes to call it, meant to show Turkey’s ability to compete with any other developed countries in terms of well-engineered infrastructures. Such a pride spreads all over, from journalists covering the front pages with praising superlatives to locals taking selfies in front of colossal pillars.

The social and environmental impact of the bridge is dramatic though, and Kursat Bayhan, an Istanbul-based photographer who grew up in the Anatolian countryside, felt the responsibility to document the region before it vanishes, flooded with concrete.

© Kursat Bayhan, from the series, Last Exit

“This place has never been used for settlement because it is the water reservoir for Istanbul inhabitants. The forest is also a main source of oxygen for the city”, Bayhan warns. Now, the few farmers who were growing vegetables and raising livestock there are selling their fields, attracted by the short-term income it provides. “For now they are happy because they have money, but in the future they will wonder, ‘why did we do that?’”

Bayhan’s series is both an ode to nature – in the footsteps of a Viennese painter who, in the 18th century, was invited by the Ottoman Sultan to draw an inventory of local flora – and a documentation of the loss. “More than 100 endemic plants are growing up there and they are now endangered. So are the migratory birds who used to take a break here on their way from Africa to Europe.”

© Kursat Bayhan, from the series, Last Exit

“While people are losing their natural green area, the government is building artificial ones - it’s almost comical. And why? It’s all advertising”, he adds. Two decades ago, when Erdogan was Mayor of Istanbul, he was the first to claim, “making a third bridge in Istanbul means killing Istanbul!” Today, not only did he approve the construction of the bridge, whose length amounts 120 km in total, but he also pushes for the construction in the same area of a third airport and, most megalomaniac of all, of a canal that will parallel the Bosphorus in order to re-route tankers delivering goods around the Black Sea.

The political game has dire consequences, but a high control of information prevents citizens from witnessing the irreversible damages – all they see is opulence and wealth. “I once shot a photograph of the area from a helicopter. As soon as the picture was published, the area was declared a non-flyable zone”, Bayhan comments. In such a context, his documentation is priceless.

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Kursat Bayhan is an Istanbul-based photojournalist exploring subjects relating to migration and identity. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

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