Infrastructure Rulez: On Turkey’s the Infrastructures-led The Regime of Urgency

By Sinan Erensu
Submitted to Session P4940 (Authority in Concrete: State, Space, and Infrastructures in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Political Economy;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Infrastructures rule in Turkey. They do in double sense. On the one hand, infrastructures rule as the ubiquous agents of the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) political economy. They are key to rent seeking activity, the maintenance of a loyal cadre of businessmen as well as garner consent from a development hungry population. On the other hand, infrastructures rule through a set of legal tools that have been recently devised and/or reinterpreted to accelerate the completion of the projects often slowed down by local resistances, administrative court decisions, natural and geographical challenges as well as financial hardship. In the recent years, hundreds of infrastructure projects have been suspended for long durations by court orders as they were sued by grassroots oppositions and stuck in the country’s notoriously tardy judicial system. In many cases, courts sided with the local plaintiffs and asked for revisions in the environmental impact assessments, annulment of land confiscations or correction of building permits all of which meant further delays. These delays put a significant burden on the private sector, the sensitive loan repayment commitments, and risk the realization of the celebrated projects. Over the past decade, the government put a great deal of resources to ease permits, accelerate land transfers, and minimized administrative oversight for the investors for the seamless progression of infrastructural investments. While I argue these legal tools have contributed to the emergence of a regime of urgency around the infrastructures, in the papers focuses on one aspect of regime called urgent appropriation procedure, an extraordinary imminent domain application. I examine the historical roots of this niche legal procedure and illustrate how it has been utilized to foster infrastructure investments. Based on ethnographic research on small-size hydropower plant developments in Eastern Black Sea Region I discuss how urgent appropriation has shaped the country’s regime of dispossession. Furthermore, I argue that the real prowess of this legal tool stems not from its ability to speedily solve infrastructure-led land-use disputes, but from its usefulness as a technology of government that could be transferred to various other policy areas from urban transformation to counter-insurgency. By looking the increased role of the central government as the ultimate broker of land deals, my paper provides an alternative trajectory for the authoritarianization in Turkey that is shaped not necessary at the level of high politics but through a regime of urgency that takes place in the Turkish countryside.