Istanbul, April 22 () - Police have forcefully evicted the renters of several shops inside the historic Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s largest covered market, just one day after detaining 20 shop owners who refused to leave the bazaar in protest of a renovation project.
Some 80 shops inside the Sandal Bedesten section of the Grand Bazaar were evicted under the control of the riot police on April 22.
The shops were owned by the General Directorate of Foundations and rented by the shop owners with long-term contracts. A group of shop owners held a protest outside the Bazaar against the decision on their shops.
The renters had received a notice from Fatih Municipality demanding they evacuate their shops before April 22, on the grounds that the area will be renovated.
The renters claimed they should be involved in the renovation project and claimed the tender for the area was too expensive for the local shop owners to remain in the bazaar.
Some shop operators, who have been running shops in the Grand Bazaar for over two decades, said they would not leave their shops and occupied the Bedesten section along with their families on April 21. They locked the four doors to the Bedesten section and refused to leave the bazaar.
The riot police were sent to the area as the shop renters said they were determined to stay in the bazaar.
The police entered and raided the bazaar after blowing one of the historical doors open with an explosive, one shop owner among the occupiers said. The police detained 20 people who were later released.
“[The police] told us not to stand behind the door. We told them, ‘we are here until we die. We will burn ourselves if necessary.’ We were actually thinking of protesting by harming ourselves” said Erman İpço, one of the shop renters who locked himself inside the bazaar.
“All of a sudden it happened. We did not believe that they could blow open the door. It was a historical door. Some of our friends fell, I fainted. They fired tear gas after they opened the door” said İpço.
The Fatih Municipality had announced in March 2014 that the historic bazaar would undergo a full restoration, costing a total of 200 million Turkish Liras ($87 million).
The police action came on the heels of similar action in Taksim, as police raided a decades-old cafe, forcing out its renter on the grounds that the building will undergo seismic upgrades. Thirteen people were detained at the Laterne Cafe, including the renter, Emriye Uysal, as well as a lawyer defending against the police raids, Eren Can.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 22 gates, 64 paths and 3,600 shops. It is one of the most recognizable and popular tourist attractions on Istanbul’s historic peninsula, attracting between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.
Back in 2012, the roof of the Grand Bazaar hosted a motorcycle chase scene in the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” triggering concerns about possible damage. During shooting, a 400-year-old wooden building in the bazaar was damaged when the motorcycles that were passing in front of a jewelry shop missed the corner and hit it.