Prime Minister and party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made an opening speech, greeting the crowd. He said İstanbul was the “essence” of Turkey, and said he greeted the entire country -- and the entire world -- from İstanbul, which he referred to as “the city of cities, the mother of all cities.”
Erdoğan noted he first got involved in politics in İstanbul, starting as a youth branch leader, then as a district head and finally as the city’s mayor. “today, the friends of ours who were with us as our comrades in those days are here. Today, our friends that we founded the AK Party together with to walk the path of serving the nation are here. Today, we are a huge group, a party that holds its provincial congress at a stadium. We are not together for profits, for offices or seats, we are together for a cause.”
The arena is the country’s biggest soccer stadium with a capacity of 52,695 people; despite this capacity, thousands of extra chairs were placed inside and outside of the stadium before Sunday’s gathering.
The attendees in the congress were subjected to thorough searches before entering the stadium. Many ambulances and health teams were kept ready in case of emergencies. Disabled attendees were brought to the stadium building in special buses.
AK Party İstanbul Provincial Chairman Aziz Babuşçu previously said that the congress would see a record number of attendees and 100,000 free souvenir tickets would be distributed to the attendees.
Noting that the idea of holding the congress in a stadium, which is a first in Turkey, belonged to him, Babuşçu said: “We have observed that our supporters do not fit in ordinary halls. So we decided to prove our people’s support of the AK Party by filling the country’s biggest stadium. We are not comparing ourselves with other parties. The [Republican People’s Party (CHP)] should criticize itself. We don’t aim to give a message to them,” he said. The main opposition CHP has recently held a congress that disappointed supporters due to low attendance.