The Work of a Rift: Kanal İstanbul and Turkey's Authoritarian Neoliberalism
Tutor: Kaija-Luisa Kurik, Keiti Kljavin, Sean Tyler
Turkey under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi was touted as a paragon of neoliberalism and a burgeoning democracy until the late-2000s. Two decades later, the positive portrayals of the country have decidedly shifted. Turkey is now considered to have retreated from neoliberalism; an emblematic case of authoritarian turn. However, this thesis rethinks authoritarian governance as the kernel of the Erdoğan-led AKP’s brand of neoliberalism. It does so by focusing on a to-be-built urban megaproject, Kanal İstanbul—a 45-kilometre long man-made waterway, aiming to locate İstanbul as a signature node in the global web of flooding money and commodities. Using the megaproject as a lens, the thesis shows how neoliberal reforms in the early-2000s have propelled İstanbul and the construction sector as financial growth generating engines of the country. Subsequently, these reforms have buttressed contemporary coercive governance structure and a megaproject spree in the city. Finally, the thesis briefly explores a recent but growing counter-hegemonic contestation against Erdoğan and Kanal İstanbul, posed by Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of İstanbul. The thesis does not give a final verdict but explores whether or not this challenge proposes an alternative to authoritarian neoliberalism.