I think Istanbul Airport, which we inaugurated on the 95th anniversary of the republic, will be a very important symbol for those looking back on Turkey’s economic history in the future. The construction process of Istanbul Airport tells the recent economic and political history of Turkey and even of the region, while the airport itself tells a lot about the future journey of the Turkish economy.
First, Istanbul Airport coming into service means the absolute defeat of many anti-democratic conspiracies, terrorist actions and coup attempts in Turkey. In this sense, the emergence of Istanbul Airport is the symbolic defeat of a series of attacks, which started with the reactionary Gezi Park protests in 2013 and continued with the Dec. 17/25 plot in 2013 and the July 15 coup attempt in 2016.
These attacks were aimed at overthrowing the popularly elected government and initiating a reactionary restoration process in Turkey. In fact, the process, which started with the Reyhanlı attack in 2013 and continued with the Gezi Park protests, actually started in 2012 with the steps to rapidly decelerate growth despite President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
During these years, Turkey witnessed a number of terrorist acts. The growth of the Turkish economy in 2010 and 2011 went beyond expectations and showed the first signs of a new growth path that was based on the dynamics of exporting industrial companies in Anatolia. The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) success in the June 2011 elections was the most important political outcome of this spurt.
From this point of view, the process of terror, plots, insurgencies and coups came to be schemed in 2011 and were followed by economic attacks in 2012 and by political ones with terrorist organizations like the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the PKK coming into play in 2013. In fact, Turkey seemed to have achieved political stability after economic growth in 2011 and was one of the few countries in the region where capital – both short-term investments and long-term foreign direct investments – could flow.
In line with this expectation, growth started to rise steadily and interest rates started to fall in 2013. Also, infrastructure investments, airports, new railway networks and energy investments that would bring export-based development to the industry came to the fore. During the same years, Erdoğan started to mention the new airport projects that would make Istanbul one of the most important airline hubs and new energy routes that would reach Europe via Eurasia and Turkey.
As a matter of fact, one of the primary goals of Gezi Park conspirators in 2013 was to stop the Istanbul Airport project. For them, however, the nightmare was not only that Istanbul Airport would make Turkey a central hub in passenger and cargo transport. The foundations of the airport were laid in 2014 and the foundations of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which would be the backbone of the Southern Energy Corridor to carry Caspian energy resources to Europe via Turkey, were laid in 2015. On the other hand, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Railway, another project that would complement TANAP, was on the agenda.
This project should be regarded as one of the most important lines of the “New Silk Road.” Just like TANAP, BTK not only united three countries but was also one of the main commercial exit-transportation projects of Asia and Europe, especially for Kazakh and Turkmen ports. Central Asia is connected to Turkey by BTK through the Caspian region. Along with the Southern Gas Corridor, this line will connect the ports of the South China Sea to Europe via Turkey. In this sense, linking roads to Istanbul’s third Bosporus bridge and new airport, and the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits are the major roads before the New Silk Road reaches the European mainland.
Istanbul Airport stands out as a “monument of victory” that complements this road with an airport and that has made Istanbul the center of the world again. On the other hand, Turkey, along with Russia, has achieved an important advantage for northern energy routes with TurkStream.
So, regardless of its size, Istanbul Airport is not just an airport investment, but also a symbol of a new development path and a new system. In this sense, it is the symbol of Turkey’s economic journey over the past decade and a summary and symbol of the coming decades.
After the June 24 elections, Turkey faced turbulence as a result of exchange and interest rate hikes, which revealed our economic weaknesses, as well as our strengths.
In the process of discussions and the construction and finalization of Istanbul Airport, Turkey also took major steps in the defense industry. Today, Turkey produces the unmanned combat aircraft technology of the future. No matter what is said, Turkey stepped into a technology-oriented development path that prioritized technological productivity after 2008 under Erdoğan’s administration. This was crowned by energy and high-speed train networks, bridges, airports and infrastructure investments.
In addition, recent developments in the economy showed that stepping back from the new development and growth path will turn last summer’s economic turbulence into a real sector crisis as this path was determined long ago. Therefore, we should not stop. We should build a new financial structure to support production-oriented reforms and production.