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Turkey’s pres­i­dent in­au­gu­rated a gleam­ing new avi­a­tion hub in Is­tan­bul this week, a megapro­ject that he has pushed to ful­fill his dream of mak­ing Turkey a global player.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan an­nounced that Is­tan­bul Air­port was open for op­er­a­tions on a spe­cial day — the 95th an­niver­sary of Turkey’s es­tab­lish­ment as a re­pub­lic fol­low­ing its war of in­de­pen­dence.

With the sprawl­ing new air­port on shores of the Black Sea, Er­do­gan de­clared that Turkey has be­come the “most im­por­tant tran­sit lo­ca­tion on the north-south, east-west axes, con­nect­ing 60 coun­tries and $20 tril­lion economies.”

“With this air­port, we are fur­ther­ing our coun­try’s key role in the in­te­gra­tion of global economies,” he said.

It was a sym­bolic open­ing, with only a few flights sched­uled this week. But by the end of the year, the mas­sive air­port will re­place Is­tan­bul’s Ataturk In­ter­na­tional Air­port, named af­ter Turkey’s founder.

Is­tan­bul Air­port is ex­pected to host 90 mil­lion pas­sen­gers per year in its first phase, and in 10 years han­dle 200 mil­lion trav­el­ers on six run­ways. That’s al­most dou­ble the traf­fic at the world’s cur­rent busiest air­port, At­lanta’s Harts­field-Jack­son.

In a re­ver­sal, Er­do­gan said the old air­port would re­main open for non-com­mer­cial flights, avi­a­tion fairs and other ac­tiv­i­ties. Some of its grounds will be turned into a park.

Turk­ish Air­lines will launch its first flights out of the new air­port to three lo­cal des­ti­na­tions: Ankara, An­talya and Izmir. It will also fly to Baku and Er­can in north­ern Cyprus.

Er­do­gan slammed crit­ics who doubted that the megapro­ject could be com­pleted safely on time. The 5-com­pany con­sor­tium Is­tan­bul Grand Air­port, which built the air­port and will run it for 25 years, said 36,000 work­ers com­pleted the first phase of the project in 42 months.

But la­bor is­sues have also tar­nished the air­port’s im­age.

“The pres­tige project has been marred by re­ports of ac­ci­dents and ar­rests of protest­ing work­ers,” said Emma Sin­clair-Webb of Hu­man Rights Watch, which cited at least 38 work­place deaths over the past three years.

Hun­dreds of work­ers were de­tained in Septem­ber af­ter a strike against poor work­ing con­di­tions, in­clud­ing un­paid salaries, bed­bugs, un­safe food and in­ad­e­quate trans­port to the site. Hu­man Rights Watch said some protesters were fired and at least 31 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a union leader, were ar­rested.

Posters of Er­do­gan in the shiny ter­mi­nal read “This is not just an air­port. This is a monument to vic­tory.”

Im­age: Em­rah Gurel

Im­age: Em­rah Gurel

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