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Turkish Activists Attempt to Save Historic Istanbul Cinema, (2010-2015)
On 31 March 2010, a group hoping to stop the demolition and preserve the cinema launched a petition and started a Facebook group in an effort to attract international media and elite attention. Over the coming months, the Facebook page attracted over 10,000 members, and they gathered 6,850 signatures from prominent international filmmakers, directors and actors. Campaigners held a series of three smaller peaceful rallies over the following year.
On 1 December 2011, a Turkish court officially lifted the ban on demolition that the cinema’s historic status had granted it. The Turkish Association of Film Critics (SIYAD) immediately denounced the decision and vowed to take action. Thousands of protesters took to the streets and marched outside the cinema on 24 December 2011 with SIYAD members, Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu, and actors Tarik Akan, Rutkay Aziz, Memet Ali Alabora, Meltem Cumbul and Mert Firat in attendance.
The company that proposed to demolish the Cinema and transform it into a shopping mall admitted on 10 January 2012 that demolishing the theater was not a necessity for the project, but would simply allow for more mall space and higher profits. A day later, the Istanbul Arts and Culture Foundation came out with an alternative development proposal that would preserve the cinema, but the Turkmall development company rejected it.
Protesters marched again on 15 April 2012 with British director Terence Davies and American director Whit Stillman in attendance. On 11 May 2012, Turkmall development company reiterated their commitment to demolishing the cinema for the project to go forward. Throughout 2012, the Turkmall development company continued to advance plans for the demolition and construction project, with a proposed demolition date of sometime in 2013.
On 7 April 2013, in the largest march yet, thousands of demonstrators took once more to the streets of Istanbul with famous directors, actors and film critics in attendance. Greek-French director Costa-Gavras, British director and BAFTA laureate Mike Newell, Chilean screenwriter, director Marco Bechis, German director Jan Ole Gerster and film critic Berke Gol joined the march.
Police responded to the protest by blocking off the street in front of the cinema and warning the protesters that the march was “unauthorized.” When protesters refused to leave, police moved in with a water cannon and tear gas and beat people with batons. Four people, including movie critic Berke Gol, were taken into custody and charged with "illegal meeting and protest.” The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts condemned the excessive force used against the demonstrators. That day, a group of 200 protesters camped out in front of the Byoglu police headquarters and demanded that the arrested protesters be released. The next day the four protesters were released pending trial.
Greek film director Costa-Gavras penned a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the protest, exclaiming that "A prominent theatre, a cultural centre must not be destroyed. It's like erasing a part of our memory and removing a significant place for the future. Therefore it would be a political, social and artistic failure." Famous Turkish film critic Atilla Dorsay denounced the plans and vowed to stop writing reviews in a silent protest if plans to demolish the cinema weren’t halted.
No government officials responded to the protests or changed policy, and demolition of the cinema began in May 2013. Several plaintiffs took the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to court in early 2013, and they finally received a ruling on 16 January 2015. The İstanbul Regional Administrative Court ruled that the demolition was illegal and not in the public interest, but much of the demolition had already been completed. Turkmall continued the project without repercussions, ignoring the court. Ironically, the court ruling also declared that the cinema was a cultural landmark after demolition had taken place. A separate lawsuit was filed against the regional mayor and the construction company for damaging neighboring buildings during the demolition project.