As the former head gardener of Gezi Park for 20 years, Cemal Özay, 68, knows every inch by heart and remembers every tree he planted. “What is it with this government’s love for concrete?” he says. “When I started, this park was a huge garden, green and full of flowers I had grown myself.”
Last year this small area of Istanbul witnessed very different scenes. In what was arguably the largest wave of protests in recent Turkish history, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to contest the proposed demolition of the park to make way for an Ottoman-style shopping centre, a project pushed personally by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“They don’t like trees, because trees don’t generate a profit,” Özay concludes. “Even the smallest city gardens and parks are now seen as a possibility for investment.”