|ISTANBUL - A conference organized by Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, or ECOC, on Thursday was stormy as agency officials defended their progress and goals while protesters questioned the organizations credibility and accused it of corruption.
There are less than six months until Istanbul takes over the culture capital flag. The city will be the last one chosen as a culture capital from outside of the EU.
Top ECOC officials were in the meeting to explain the latest developments, though not many of them were new or positive. After discussing the agencys aims - which include promoting Istanbul as a brand and developing long-neglected cultural heritage projects - Şekib Avdagiç, deputy chairman of the ECOCs executive board declared that the agency had approved projects that require a budget of 257 million Turkish Liras. The projects include the renovation of the Atatürk Culture Center, or AKM.
Starting in 2008, a total of 1,990 projects were proposed as part of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture activities. The executive board reviewed 1,211 of them, and out of that number, 281 projects were found adequate to participate. Among the projects that were approved, 60 of them were prepared by the ECOC, 32 of them were proposed by individuals, and 34 of them are municipal projects. The rest were prepared by universities, nongovernmental organizations, businesses and public institutions. Those not yet approved are still under examination by the board, Avdagiç said.
Of course, the agency highlighted the importance of the financial part of the project. Having 78 million liras in savings in 2008, the agency spent 40 million liras the same year. That amount was spent on implementing projects, Tourism and Culture Ministry projects, international and local promotion, and general administrative expenses. The promotional projects covered a big part of the budget expenses last year.
As Avdagiç was talking, a man took the f.loor and started talking about the project that he proposed to the ECOC.
"I am Nuri Kaya. I am the founder of the project named, I listen to Istanbul with my eyes shut. We took photos of Istanbul with blind people and wanted to exhibit them with the support of ECOC, but my project was emasculated day by day."
While he was talking, he started taking his clothes off. He had two friends accompanying him. One of them was blind. They were all left with a T-shirt with a huge X print on top of "Istanbul 2010."After they were surrounded with cameras, they were kicked out from the conference.
Chief Curator of Istanbul Modern Museum Levent Çalıkoğlu said the agency has moved away from its real aims. "With the present situation, it seems impossible to have a proper organization for 2010," Çalıkoğlu said.Çalıkoğlu is one of the project applicants left without an answer as to whether their projects will be part of the activities, and he was not invited to Thursdays meeting.
"The 2010 Capital of Culture organization was expected to bring cooperation, but it did not happen," he said. "We were left with a couple of performances and exhibitions that warmed us up, but that was all."
The members of the board are putting up with icorruption.claims as well. After former chairman of the ECOC executive board Nuri Çolakoğlu resigned in February, a couple of board members followed suit and quit their jobs in the ECOC. Rumors abounded that there was a disagreement between the members of the board. Others claimed there was corruption within the governing body.
After Çolakoğlu stepped down, the Prime Ministry Inspection Board launched an investigation and prepared a report on the matter. Çolakoğlu, the former CEO of the Turkish Daily News and the current editorial consultant for Doğan Media Holding, told the Daily News that he did not receive a report saying that there was corruption.
"I dont want to talk about this issue until I see the report," Çolakoğlu said. "But as far as I know, there are no corruption claims." The officials at the conference did not want to comment on Çolakoğlus resignation.
Emphasizing that renovations and restoration projects - such as the inner part of Hagia Sophia and kitchen and harem areas of Topkapı Palace - are nearly completed, Avdagiç said one of the biggest and most important projects was Theodosius Harbor. The harbor was one of the most important during the Byzantine period. While digging for the Marmaray Project, workers found remains of Byzantine ships in Istanbuls Yenikapı district. But the restoration of AKM will not be complete.
"We wish we could have had the chance to organize the opening ceremony in the AKM, but the firm who won the bid plans to finish it in the second quarter of next year," Avdagiç said.