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The skyline of Istanbul, Turkey.

The skyline of Istanbul, Turkey.

Photographer: Chris McGrath/Getty Images Europe
CityLab
Government

Turkey’s Biggest City Falls Victim to Cold War With Erdogan

Istanbul’s autonomy and finances are being squeezed in a clash between the national government and the opposition-run municipality.

When the Istanbul municipality erected an amphitheater and exhibition space in Taksim Square two years ago, people flocked to the striking wood and steel structure. They took selfies on its tiered steps, watched musicians play free concerts, perused a display on local history, and looked out over the vast concrete expanse of the city’s most iconic plaza from a new vantage point.

But scarcely a week after its debut, the temporary gathering place had been blocked off by police, then prematurely dismantled and carried away. It was meant to kick off a municipality-run design competition and engage the densely populated city’s residents in re-envisioning public space. Instead, it fell victim to a wider political conflict that affects the urban administration of Istanbul — and the lives of its 16 million residents — to this day.