Erdogan opens an iconic mosque in Istanbul’s Taksim Square Politics news


Istanbul, Turkey – Thousands of worshipers attended Istanbul’s Taksim Central Square on Friday on the occasion of the inauguration by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of an imposing and controversial new mosque.

The opening fulfilled an ambition of several governments since the 1950s to build a Muslim place of worship in the square, often regarded as a symbol of the secularism of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The inauguration also coincided with the anniversary of the massive anti-government protests, which began in nearby Gezi Park on May 28, 2013, due to government construction plans.

The screens in the square showed the first prayers in the mosque, which stands on a bronze and marble statue representing Ataturk, while the faithful sat on disposable paper mats.

Although municipal workers handed out masks and disinfectant, the little social distancing was among the crowds, although Turkey has recently come out of its stricter closure of COVID-19 to date.

Erdogan’s arrival received applause as he signaled to the crowd before entering the interior.

People see President Erdogan from big screens during the inauguration of the mosque [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

“We have been waiting for this mosque for a long time,” Mehmet Ali Karahacioglu, 68, told Al Jazeera.

“No one was able to do it, only Erdogan. He is a special man to me. Taksim Square has a beautiful view right now. I wish they could build this mosque 50 years ago, ”he said.

In a speech, Erdogan said he hoped it would “illuminate our city like an oil lamp for centuries to come.”

Thousands of people attended the inauguration [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

Taksim is the focal point of life on the European side of Istanbul: it connects with the main shopping street, Istiklal, and is often animated by shoppers, tourists, workers and partygoers.

The area was home to Istanbul’s religious and ethnic minorities during the Ottoman era and there are several churches nearby, including the city’s largest Greek Orthodox church, but few large mosques.

“We didn’t have enough mosques around here, so it’s good,” said Canan Kurtoglu, 53, who attended the prayers and works for the subcontractor who built the mosque’s doors.

For critics, however, the 28-meter-wide dome of the new monument and two towering minarets loom over the square as an effort by Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development (AK) party has been in power since of 2002, to impose a religious and conservative. dominance over the area.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Middle East Politics Institute in Washington, said on Twitter that “sponsoring large symbolic mosques in the city of his birth … Erdogan seems determined to leave his indelible mark in Turkey ”.

Protests in Gezi Park

Erdogan pushed for the establishment of a mosque in the area since he was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s, however, plans were thwarted by a military intervention in 1997 that ousted the country’s Islamist government and by a series of legal and public battles.

During a speech that followed after the inaugural prayers, Erdogan blamed Gezi’s protests for the mosque project had not been brought to fruition before, referring to him as a “time when those terrorists left to oppose us. “

Gezi’s protests were sparked by Erdogan’s plan to build a shopping center designed as the Ottoman-era barracks in a rare green space in the area, but a strong police response saw it spread across the country. in a malaise that continued for months.

Construction of the mosque finally began in 2017. According to reports, the new 2,250-capacity mosque also contains an exhibition hall, library, soup and parking.

It is the third major religious monument recently established in the city by Erdogan.

The huge Camlica Mosque overlooking the Asian side of the city opened in March 2019.

The 1,400-year-old Hagia Sophia, which was originally a church before becoming a mosque under the Ottomans and later a museum under Ataturk, was converted into a mosque last year.

Canan Kurtoglu puts a photo in Taksim Square [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

On the other side of the mosque square was the Ataturk Cultural Center, a 1960s building that Gezi protesters hung with banners in 2013 but was demolished in 2019.

The building is now being replaced by a new Ataturk cultural center that will house an opera house, as well as exhibition halls, cafes and restaurants.

“Erdogan just made this mosque for political reasons,” said Can Aksoy, 40, an actor who grew up and lives in the area.

“He built it right in front of the cultural center, just to show his power because he can.”

Women attend the opening of the Taksim Mosque [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

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