(Washington, D.C.) — The Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) has called on HOK, an American design, architecture and urban planning company, to clarify its association with Kalyon Holding, a company notorious for receiving access to thousands of non-competitive public tenders in return for supporting President Erdogan’s anti-democratic agenda, as well as for documented environmental despoliation.

In Fall 2021, TDP initiated a campaign calling on international companies to end association with corrupt Turkish construction firms and nefarious government sponsored projects. TDP’s research has found that HOK is associated with a number of highly controversial projects.

HOK is currently providing a wide range of services in Turkey, including for the NEF Ataköy 22 and the Istanbul International Financial Centres, which are being constructed and maintained by Kalyon Holding (Kalyon). A leading construction company, Kalyon is responsible for massive public projects which have cost the Turkish state billions of liras while inflicting grievous environmental damage. Its Chairman, Cemal Kalyoncu, is a member of a group of oligarchs, dubbed the “gang of five” by the media. The group operates as a kleptocracy, benefitting from Erdogan’s protection in exchange for their unwavering support for his autocratic policies.

In the height of the pandemic while millions of Turkish businesses struggled to stay afloat, these plutocrats continued to be awarded major infrastructure contracts for their firms to develop projects like the Istanbul Canal tender, granted to a consortium of companies formed by Kalyon. The $61 billion project, which will effectively destroy the Marmara water basin through heavy pollution, has been highly criticized and legally contested by environmental groups, as well as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

Kalyon is also known for using its media arm, Turkuvaz Media, to spread pro-regime propaganda on behalf of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Leaked tapes published in February 2014 uncovered that Erdogan personally lobbied his allies to pool their finances to enable Kalyon to acquire the group. In 2019, a mass consolidation of pro-regime media outlets was facilitated by the marriage of Kalyoncu’s son to Yelda Demirören, the daughter of the Chair of the Board of Demirören Holding – another gang-of-five firm with significant media ownership. The union of these two key media mogul families has enabled Erdogan to gain indirect control of more than 85 percent of the Turkish media landscape.

Having identified substantial legal, moral and environmental risks to HOK’s association with Kalyon Holding, TDP sent a letter on January 24, 2022 to HOK’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bill Hellmuth.

Commenting on HOK’s ongoing association with Kalyon Holding and its lack of response to TDP’s concerns, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, CEO of the Turkish Democracy Project said:

We urgently call on HOK to cease its association with Kalyon Holding, a company which continuously enriches itself on the backs of the Turkish people without any regard for the environmental, social, and economic consequences of its activities. By continuing to collaborate with such a company, HOK is complicit in the autocratic and authoritarian actions of the Turkish government. Erdogan’s dangerous megalomania greatly threatens Turkey’s environment and its inhabitants. No company should contribute to this mass defrauding of the Turkish people’s rights.”