Aziz Kocaoglu, Mayor of Izmir since 2004
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Mayor of the Month for December 2012
Mayor of Izmir, Turkey
By Brian Baker, Senior Correspondent
3 December 2012: Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, has been a thorn in the flesh of the country’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a number of years. Unlike Istanbul and Ankara, the city has remained a stronghold of Turkey’s main secular party, the social-democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), even after the AKP rose to national power in 2003. Izmir’s current mayor Aziz Kocaoglu and his predecessor, Ahmet Piristina, have pursued progressive policies, which have earned Izmir the title of the most liberal city in Turkey.
Update 30 March 2014: Mayor Kocaoglu re-elected. He has also been shortlisted for the 2014 World Mayor Prize.
Mayor Kocaoglu and several members of his administration have twice been subjected to police raids. Earlier this year, a court heard indictments seeking 397 years in prison for the mayor on 33 corruption-related charges and for ‘starting a gang’. Despite an on-going investigation no transgressions have emerged. The mayor has rejected all charges as politically motivated and pointed out that despite all the negative publicity, Izmir Metropolitan Municipality increased its credit rating and is now one of the highest rated institutions in Turkey.
Aziz Kocaoglu has been mayor of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality in Turkey since the sudden and unexpected death of Ahmet Piristina in 2004. Mayor Kocaooglu, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party, was previously mayor of of Bornova, one the constituent districts of Izmir.
Mayor Kocaoglu was born in Tokat in 1948 and is married with two children. He has been active in politics throughout his adult life having been a member of the youth wing of the CHP in the 1970’s. After joining the Social Democracy Party SODEP in 1987, he became a member of the re-formed CHP after the two parties merged.
He has sought to continue the work of Mayor Piristina, the highly regarded leader in Izmir, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 52. Mayor Piristina had taken several initiatives in Izmir after his initial election in 1999 including the Metro system, waste treatment facility enhancements and the Tahtali barrage.
The work of Mayor Kocaoglu and his illustrious predecessor seems to be having a beneficial effect on the city and its inhabitants. The US-based Brookings Institution placed Izmir 4th in its 2011 edition of Economic Performance Rankings. This is a global assessment of metropolitan areas. It is the highest ever ranking of the city.
Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and has a population in the metropolitan area of 3.9 million. Izmir is in the west of the country on the Gulf of Izmir and includes a significant Mediterranean port. Bornova is the third largest of the cities that make up the Izmir urban region with a population of 412,000. The largest, Karabaglar, has a population of 462,000, while Buca, the second-largest district, is home to 437,000 residents..
Contributory factors to the high rating were increases over the previous period of over five per cent in both incomes and employment. At a time of global recession this was one of the strongest performances in the world. Izmir has 11 higher education institutions and this has clearly contributed to a well educated population within the metropolitan area.
Alongside economic performance goes quality of life and wider appeal to investors and the mayor has led the city region in major environmental improvement efforts. One of his top priorities is the Great Gulf Project which is cleaning up the Gulf of Izmir to make it once again fit for swimming and which is enhancing the coastal strip using the ideas of local people and local architects and other professionals.
Mayor Piristina had successfully prevented the building of a highway along the coast-line and begun to transform it. Aziz Kocaoglu has continued with that and the Kordon is now a mostly pedestrianised, vibrant, area which includes cafes, restaurants and many of the cultural attractions along its length.
Mayor Kocaoglu’s leadership of the process of creating a diverse, attractive and successful coastal strip is an example of continuity with his predecessor who set up an urban design competition for the port area and surrounds. International companies are involved in the process of dredging the coastline though the contracts have required them to provide local operators and workers with full training.
Although he came to office in the metropolitan municipality by the vote of his fellow local authority members Aziz Kocaoglu was re-elected in a popular ballot in 2009, when he secured 57 per cent of the vote. He was also directly elected by the citizens of Bornova as local mayor in 2004.
Bornova is one of two cities within the metropolitan municipality which has signed the European Union’s Covenant of Mayors and which has submitted a fully tested energy efficiency plan. The other is Karsiyaka. Izmir is an associate member of the EuroCities network.
History weighs heavily on the area as Izmir is at the location of the historic city of Smyrna. Under Aziz Kocaoglu’s leadership the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality and Izmir Archaeological Museum are working together to re-claim the ancient world history for the benefit of scholars, residents and future tourists. Research has been on-going at the Old Smyrna site since 1997 and at the New Smyrna site from the classical period which is in the present day Kadifekale district since 2002. Old Smyrna, which was an Aeolian settlement, is on the north east corner of the inner gulf.
After the end of World War I, the city was in Greek control for three years until it was taken by forces led by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. In the decades before the war, Izmir had been part of the Ottoman Empire but had also been an important financial and cultural centre of the Greek world and had substantial Levantine and Jewish populations.
When the Kemal Ataturk led forces recaptured the city and its environs there was extensive damage to the buildings and loss of civilian life. Consequently, Izmir is a predominantly modern city and the Mayor’s efforts to improve the environment and rediscover its history are significant in its appeal.
Aziz Kocaoglu has also initiated major social intervention schemes to address problems of non-integration of incomers from Eastern Turkey who have arrived in all Western Turkey cities during the past 40 years.
Many of these internal migrants and their children have retained rural ways, living in a segregated manner from the other townspeople, and have not taken advantage of educational opportunities. The divisions have become entrenched and the mayor decided it was necessary to make serious attempts to ease the problem.
He established mentoring schemes which are known as ‘Sister Family Project’ and ‘Sisters and Brothers Elders for the Youngers Project’. They enable children of migrant families to meet with and share time with local residents from well-established and educated families in the city. These projects began in 2006. Amongst those involved in mentoring young people from low income and incomer households are retired teachers and university students. The students are matched with young people in the later years of compulsory education from low income families.
The objective is that by sharing various activities together such as attending cultural, social and sports events the students from established city families can contribute to the development of the younger ‘ siblings’ as people who are self-confident, respectful to other ideas and beliefs and non-discriminating.
Aziz Kocaoglu has a first degree in economics from Ege University in Izmir and a Masters degree from Istanbul University in business administration. He worked after leaving university in the public sector as a finance manager. In 1979 he worked in the private sector before starting his own business in furniture and ceramics.
The mayor comes from a political background. His grandfather was a politician and his father was a district mayor.
Since taking office in 2004 Mayor Kocaoglu has impressed observers and most residents with his open style and sound financial management of the municipality. The debt burden to the national treasury was cleared and the city has a higher credit rating now with the international rating agencies.
In June 2012, credit agency Moodys increased the rating of the metropolitan municipality by two points to A1 and said that this was achieved through long-term sound financial management process. They said debt was not expected to rise though capital expenditures will increase in 2012 and 2013.
Part of the reason for that is the expansion of the Metro system in the city. A further 3.2 kms of Metro Line 1 from Bornova to Evka opened in 2012 and added Ege University in the east to the network. A 5.4 kms westerly extension is in construction from Ucyol to Fahrettin Altay. Further extensions to the west and to the south east to serve Dokuz Eylul University which will allow the system to operate as two lines and extend it by another 18 kms are planned for early delivery.
The expansion of the metro system and further improvements to waste treatment are examples of Mayor Kocaoglu’s emphasis on infrastructure. He has said throughout his two terms that it is better to address the major problems in the city through permanent infrastructure based solutions than with what he describes as ‘superficial readjustments’. Izmir is currently the Turkish city with the highest proportion of waste water which is treated at plants which meet EU standards.
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