Does this mosque in Atasehir look like a tasteful tribute to the best Ottoman architect or plainly an eyesore in between tower blocks and the Istanbul highway?
"Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended an opening ceremony at a mosque in Istanbul’s Atasehir district yesterday, accompanied by Gabon’s President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba, Iraqi National Parliament Speaker Osama Nujaifi and top Turkish officials," Hürriyet Daily News reported.
The mosque, Mimar Sinan Camii, was dedicated to the Ottoman Empire’s legendary architect Sinan, who lived between 1490 and 1588. Erdoğan said the mosque would be "a modest gift to Sinan’s soul," adding that Istanbul’s Asian side was in need of a “selatin mosque."
Selatin mosques are unique mosques which were built at the request of Ottoman Sultans as places for Muslims to gather for Friday prayers, such as the Sultanahmet and Selimiye mosques in Istanbul.
The newspaper doesn't elaborate on the oddity here. Why did Erdogan call it a selatin mosque? Does he really start to see himself as a sultan? "Today's gaffe was a revelation of the Prime Minister's psych and mindset," Milliyet columnist Kadri Gursel tweeted to ask the same question.
Personally, I care more about the structures than the individuals. Whether the "neoliberal Islamist" Erdogan sees himself as a sultan or not, the concerning element in this debate is more about his neoliberalism than his -rather authocratic- Islamism, again.
Let's remember: Sultans were building selatin mosques with the booty gained in a recent conquest. Some say that Erdogan referred to this construction scheme, as another controversial mosque in Istanbul's Asian side district Camlica will be dominating the Bosphorus skyline soon, thanks to the funding by some pro-government businessmen, instead of the state. So, in the Neo-Ottoman times when Turkey has to implode instead of exploding to foreign conquests, mosques will be "privatized."
Money comes and goes. Again, I don't think it really matters on this subject if it is the state or the private sector who builds mosques. What is irritating in this transformation is how this mindset insults the memory of Sinan, a true genius. I sincerely believe that the architecture of our mosques has been one of the most significant elements of the Turkish art and science in the past. But when we "counterfeit" them after centuries, we create a Baudrillardian distopia: A plastic Mecca.
Although Erdogan's desire to leave a mark in history as probably the most powerful -and popular- prime minister ever is understandable, it is also deplorable that he pursuits his goals regardless of what is really good for the public, our historical figures and the universal aesthetics. Furthermore, he fails to see that such efforts will make him invisible in history, not immortal.
What do I mean?
Some time ago, I had written a very popular post on Turkey's first mosque designed by a woman. I would like to end this post by translating the remarks of that designer, Zeynep Fadillioglu, who has just reviewed the newest Istanbul mosque with the following remarks to Hürriyet:
"I think that our architecture should represent the contemporary. Of course, a mosque can be built by politically referring to Sinan. But in the last 70-80 years, our mosques were being designed like the Blue Mosque of the 17th century. They couldn't be so successful, because the best example was already given then. I don't understand why they repeat the centuries-old mosques with today's technology. Creativity should be prioritized. A new conception on mosque architecture, based on the ideas of young designers, should be developed. Otherwise, people will one day look in the past and say: 'It seems that nobody lived in that period of time.'"