Along with his suggestion that abortion may soon be banned, the other bombshell that mercurial Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently dropped was that his government is planning to build a massive mosque up on one of Istanbul's highest hills, designed so that it could be seen from almost every part of the city. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
“We are going to build a mosque over 15,000 meters square next to the broadcasting tower in Çamlıca. The planning work is nearing completion. I believe the bulldozers will begin working within two months. This giant mosque in Çamlıca was designed so as to be visible from all parts of Istanbul,” Erdoğan said late May 29, while speaking at the opening ceremony of a traditional handicrafts center in the nearby district of Kandilli.
Foundations General Director Adnan Ertem, Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın, Üsküdar Mayor Mustafa Kara and Emine Erdoğan, the prime minister’s wife, also attended yesterday’s ceremony.
The mosque complex will also include facilities underneath the building for traditional crafts, such as “hat” (Turkish calligraphy) and gilding, Erdoğan said. “In other words, just as there used to be madrasahs next to [mosques] in the past, our architects have undertaken to design something similar in this contemporary setting.”
So is Istanbul's skyline about to be radically augmented? Not so fast, Turkey's Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertugrul Gunay, said today. Despite Erdogan's claim, bulldozers are not about to start to get to work on the mosque, the minister said:
“So many criticisms were voiced by society including religious segments to the idea of building a mosque in a place which is not a residential district. I suppose we will take these criticisms into account and proceed this way,” Ertuğrul Günay said June 13 in an interview on private broadcaster NTV.
Günay said there had only been an “exchange of views” on the issue and no governmental institution or municipality had plans for such a project yet.
As some Turkish commentators have pointed out, Erdogan's mosque proposal (as well as his anti-abortion comments) could be part of a calculated effort to rally his religiously conservative voter base. But the Turkish Prime Minister also likes to think in terms of big projects, regardless of public opposition or their environmental cost. His desire to see a third bridge built across the Bosphorus, which many planners and environmentalists have said will only increase congestion and will damage some of Istanbul's last remaining green space, is now going be become a reality. And last summer, in the run up to parliamentary elections, Erdogan unveiled what he called his "crazy project": a plan to build a $10 billion, 50 kilometer-long canal that would run between the Marmara and Black Sea, allowing tankers to bypass the congested Bosphorus. That project, which was actually first proposed by one of the sultans centuries ago, appears to have been put on hold. For now.