ITALY Citizenship, opportunities and freedom: Ekrem İmamoğlu’s view of Istanbul (and Turkey)

AsiaNews met the mayor of Istanbul, the economic and commercial capital of Turkey. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the “Mediterranean, frontier of peace” event. For the governor, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “shame” and he hopes that a “solution” can be found through “dialogue”. young people and the weakest strata of the population Religions are an asset and the State must be secular.

Florence (AsiaNews) – The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “disgrace” which has brought the war back to the heart of Europe, and for which a “solution” must be found through “debate and dialogue”. And again, the concept of “citizenship” as an element that unites the inhabitants of a territory, regardless of the religion they profess, erasing the term “minority” in a reality in which its members can benefit from “equal rights and duties”. This is what Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul, said in an interview with AsiaNews. The official traveled to Italy to participate in the conference “The Mediterranean, frontier of peace”, which took place in Florence from February 23 to 27.

Charismatic leader and frontline representative of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), he managed to defeat the ruling candidate and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in the 2019 elections. Thus, he took control of the capital economy and trade of the country. For analysts and experts, İmamoğlu is one of the most authoritative candidates in the 2023 presidential elections, and one of the few who can challenge the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, in power for decades. Then the full interview:

Mayor İmamoğlu, let’s start with today: what repercussions can the Russian invasion of Ukraine have on the Mediterranean and the Middle East?

This century does not deserve a war which I consider unacceptable, we should discuss everything we can do to solve this problem. Nations must unite and find a solution, through debate and dialogue. We condemn this attack and hope that [la disputa] can be resolved as soon as possible, to restore peace in the region. In this century of pandemic [de Covid-19] and economic crisis, now we also have a war in the heart of Europe… It’s a shame!

You mentioned the pandemic. What is the situation in Istanbul after two years of Covid and a national economic crisis?

The world is facing an economic crisis, but Turkey is one of the nations that is suffering most deeply. Our city is one of the most exposed due to its large population, which includes two million refugees out of a total of 16 million people, but if we add the active population that surrounds it, we arrive at almost 20 millions. When we took over the Istanbul government three years ago, the budget reserved for social policies was around 3-4%, today we have increased it to 15-20% for the well-being of our fellow citizens, especially children, young people and mothers. . We set out to build a bridge between the haves and the have-nots, so that one can help the other.

For years, Turkey has promoted a policy of welcoming refugees, especially Syrians. The crisis has imposed radical changes…

Our country has been able to successfully promote a welcome policy towards refugees, even if some mistakes have been made and this has led to a society where refugees constitute a considerable sector. With the war in Syria, we are witnessing the failure of the international community, which failed to manage the emergency and do enough to resolve the crisis. I hope that the war between Russia and Ukraine will not become another failure in this regard, but can be resolved as soon as possible to avoid the risk of another huge wave of refugees and immigration. In Turkey alone, we have more than five million Syrians, and then there are the others [de Afganistán, Irak, etc.]: The real solution is to ensure that they can return safely to their homes and lands, and that they can live in peace.

A recent study shows deep discontent among young people in Turkey, who are increasingly willing to emigrate. What measures do you intend to take to stop the exodus?

Istanbul faces the same challenges as all major cities in the world: urbanization, climate change, quality of life and the fight against poverty. For us, the challenge is all the greater in that it is a young metropolis: almost 50% of the population is under 30, and we have to give them hope, make them understand that ‘they can achieve their goals and that dreams can come true. However, to this are added problems that affect the whole nation such as education, job search, so that the most educated young people or those with more opportunities seek a solution abroad. The only way to reverse this trend is to introduce profound changes in national policies so that Turkey – and Istanbul – remains a land of opportunity. Next year we will celebrate the centenary [de la república y se celebrarán elecciones presidenciales, ed] and I believe that there will be profound transformations, young people will be able to rediscover new opportunities in their country.

A year ago, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq. What can you tell us about interreligious dialogue and relations between Christians and Muslims?

I consider that the union of these parts is a richness, a variety of colors that enriches the city, and Istanbul is perhaps the most beautiful center in the world in this sense. When we assumed the government of the metropolis, from the beginning we tried to guarantee the greatest confrontation and dialogue between the different religions, and we did the same in the municipal administration, choosing people of different beliefs (in more than age and sex), so that from within it would be guaranteed that funerals and marriages would be celebrated in accordance with the worship practiced.

The objective is to meet and discuss the needs and requirements of each; we also encourage meetings to deal with the most important issues and find – as far as possible – solutions to problems. For everyone, it is a kind of spiritual journey and, whatever the belief that everyone professes, it is an opportunity to mature. At the same time, as mayor, I support the value of the secularism of the State and institutions and religious freedom. I hope Istanbul will increasingly become a city where all believers can live happily and peacefully. Another point is not to use the term “minority”, because we are all “citizens” and members of a community with the same rights and duties. This applies to the city I manage and to the country – this is my wish for the future!

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