The public sphere has always been contentious in Turkey, a multicultural and politically polarized country. For two decades, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party expanded their control over public spaces and used their influence to reshape cities according to their social, political, and economic values. In the 2019 local elections, however, the victory of opposition mayors in Turkey’s main cities shattered the AKP’s municipal dominance. In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and cultural capital, transition to opposition rule has given a particular boost to civil society and brought fresh air to civic and cultural life.

One year after the June 23, 2019 landslide victory of Ekrem Imamoğlu—the first opposition mayor of Istanbul elected in 25 years—please join us for a panel with Turkish civil society leaders and experts to hear their reflections on how civic space and civil society activism in Istanbul has changed under the new political leadership.


  • Yaşar Adanalı
    Director, Center for Spatial Justice (Mekanda Adalet Derneği), Istanbul
  • Mehmet Ergen
    Director, Istanbul City Theaters (İBB Şehir Tiyatroları)
  • Ayla Jean Yackley
    Istanbul-based journalist


  • Merve Tahiroğlu
    Turkey Program Coordinator, POMED


Speaker Bios:

Yaşar Adnan Adanali is an Istanbul-based urbanist, activist, and researcher. He is one of the co-founders and the general director of the Center for Spatial Justice (Mekanda Adalet Derneği), an Istanbul non-profit working toward more fair, democratic, and ecological urban and rural spaces. His PhD research at the Technische Universität Berlin is on right-to-land movements in informal neighborhoods in Istanbul. Yaşar previously worked as an action planner with urban communities in the Dominican Republic and on refugee camp improvement projects in the Middle East. Since 2010, he has been teaching participatory planning and co-housing at Darmstadt Technical University in Germany. Yaşar is a volunteer consultant for Düzce Hope Homes, the first participatory social housing project in Turkey and a finalist for the World Habitat Awards. He has received fellowships from the Ashoka Foundation and the Bertha Foundation.

Mehmet Ergen is the general director of the Istanbul City Theaters (İBB Sehir Tiyatrolari), operated by the Istanbul municipality. He has produced and directed performances at London’s Arcola Theatre and Southwark Playhouse, both of which he co-founded. In Istanbul, Mehmet has served as the artistic director at the Yeni Kusak Theater (New Generation Theater) at Akbank Art Center and Talimhane Theater, which he also founded. He has directed plays in Israel, Canada, and across Europe and taught at the University of Essex, the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and Bilgi University.

Ayla Jean Yackley is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She contributes regularly to Al-Monitor and has also published in the Financial Times, the New Yorker, the Economist, and Politico, among many other outlets. She mainly writes about politics and civil society, with a focus on human and minority rights. Ayla is a graduate of Northwestern University and has worked as a correspondent and reporter for the Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg LP in Turkey.

Merve Tahiroğlu (moderator) is POMED’s Turkey Program Coordinator. Prior to joining POMED in September 2019, Merve was a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where she focused on Turkey’s domestic politics, foreign policy, and relationship with Washington. She has authored several monographs and published articles in outlets such as Foreign Affairs, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Politico, and Huffington Post.


Photo credit: Flickr user Ben Morlok