Ankara (AFP)

With its gigantic dinosaur statues and its 17 roller coasters, "Wonderland Eurasia" in Ankara was to become the largest amusement park in Europe and a "source of pride", according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Instead, the expensive rides, which have been rusting since the park closed less than a year after it opened in March 2019, have become a symbol of the mismanagement and hubris of some presidential party AKP officials. .

The indignation aroused by the construction of this mega-project as unnecessary and expensive has helped put an end to the long reign of the Islamo-conservatives over Ankara, a city won by the opposition in the last municipal elections in 2019.

This setback, unprecedented for Mr. Erdogan, also served as a warning for the Head of State who is heading for a delicate double presidential and legislative ballot in 2023, against a backdrop of economic difficulties.

The extent of the problems affecting Wonderland Eurasia became apparent very quickly.

Two days after the park opened, a train got stuck on top of a roller coaster.

The passengers were forced to leave the merry-go-round on foot.

Amusement equipment at the abandoned "Wonderland Eurasia" park, July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

Visitors also had the unpleasant surprise to discover toilets in poor condition, half-built attractions and areas of the park closed to access due to construction in progress.

In 2020, Wonderland Eurasia has lowered the curtain, leaving rusting statues and rides and a strong sense of bitterness in place.

"What Ankara needed was not an amusement park. It was (an improvement) in transport," regrets Tezcan Karakus Candan, president of the Ankara Chamber of Architects.

Amusement equipment at the abandoned "Wonderland Eurasia" park, July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

"It was an extravagant project," she adds, pointing out that there was already another major amusement park in the Turkish capital.

- "Caprice" -

The municipality has sued the company responsible for Wonderland Eurasia in the hope of gaining control over it and putting the vast land it was built on to good use.

A decision is expected on September 13.

According to the current mayor from the opposition, Mansur Yavas, this project inherited from one of his predecessors, Melih Gökçek, cost more than 680 million euros.

Tezcan Karakus Candan, president of the Ankara Chamber of Architects, July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

Mr. Gökçek, who led Ankara from 1994 to 2017, disputes this figure, citing a cost of 420 million euros.

But the former city councilor, who was relieved of his post by Mr Erdogan before the end of his last term, remains associated with several controversial construction projects.

Wonderland Eurasia, which was first called "Ankapark", was supposed to develop tourism in Ankara, a primarily administrative city, far from possessing the charms of Istanbul or the seaside resorts in the south of the country.

Mr. Gökçek had said that the park would attract 10 million annual visitors to the capital.

She received half of it in 2019.

Amusement equipment at the abandoned "Wonderland Eurasia" park, July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

For Güven Arif Sargin, professor of architecture at the Technical University of the Middle East in Ankara, wanting to make the capital a tourist hub was a "childish whim".

- Legacy of Ataturk -

For Mr. Erdogan's opponents, this project has also become the symbol of the gap that they believe exists between the ruling class and the concerns of the population.

"Melih Gökçek illustrates the way in which the local administrations of the AKP betray the cities, and the way in which they act to set up a process of plundering" of the public funds, estimates Mrs. Candan.

Dinosaur statutes at the derelict "Wonderland Eurasia" park on July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

But for many Ankara residents, Mr. Gökçek's main fault is not that he indulged in a costly fantasy.

It is to have destroyed a natural space associated with the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose name he also bore.

The "Ataturk Forest Farm", set up in 1925, housed a zoo and vegetable gardens.

The founder of the Republic had created it so that it could meet the future needs of the capital in agricultural products.

For the detractors of Mr. Erdogan, the construction of an amusement park on this symbolic place is part of the enterprise of erasing the legacy of Ataturk of which they accuse the power.

For Ms. Candan, only a "radical" solution would allow us to turn the page.

Amusement equipment at the abandoned "Wonderland Eurasia" park, July 5, 2021 in Ankara, Turkey Adem ALTAN AFP

"We must give the rides (of the park) to the regions that need them, claim compensation from Melih Gökçek for the sums wasted and use this money to reforest" the area, she said.

© 2021 AFP

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