Erdogan opens controversial mosque at Taksim Square, secular Turkey is less happy

It is 21 metres high, includes an exhibition space, a food court and a digital Islamic library, and before its opening, 25 tons of rose water were sprayed into the adjacent square.

It is the new mosque at Taksim Square in Istanbul. The mosque was officially opened today by Turkish President Erdogan, with which his long-cherished wish was fulfilled. But secular Turkey is a lot less happy about it.

The first time Erdogan suggested the plan to build a mosque on the citys main square was in 1994, when he was mayor of Istanbul. โ€œOther conservative governments have also made attempts,โ€ says correspondent Mitra Nazar.

Symbol for modern Turkey

Especially because of resistance from the secular part of society, it never succeeded. โ€œBut when Erdogan gained more power as president in 2017, he continued. Work has been done for four years and now Erdogans mosque is a fact,โ€ says Nazar.

For some Turks, Taksim Square was a symbol of the modern Turkey founded by Atatรผrk, where church and state are separated. In those circles, this is seen as part of an Islamisation under Erdogan. Atatรผrks square is now a bit Erdogan square.

A twitterer shows a photo with the Ataturk monument where the new mosque towers in the background:

And then the chosen opening date is also extra sensitive. Exactly 8 years ago, on 28 May 2013, the Gezi protests began, named after the Gezi Park, which borders Taksim Square.

These protests were at the outset against building plans in the park, but the brutal police interventions resulted in a broader, brighter protest against the government of Prime Minister Erdogan, who was still at the time.

Erdogan quoted those protests in his opening speech this afternoon. According to him, these were directed against the arrival of the mosque. โ€œThen we were confronted with the Gezi incidents. The moment when those terrorists were facing us.โ€

Since then, repression has increased so much that no longer can be demonstrated, says Nazar. โ€œThere are a lot of police around the square, and there are even permanent barriers to prevent attempts at protest.โ€

Show of power

Also today it remained quiet, saw Nazar. โ€œThis also has to do with the fact that demonstrating against a mosque is sensitive, even with Erdogans opposition. People do not want it to appear as Islamophobia. It is about the fact that Erdogan uses a mosque as a display of power and that the people have not been asked if they want such a large mosque in this place.โ€

Conservative Turks are enthusiastic about the arrival of the mosque, precisely because it is such an iconic place in Istanbul. โ€œJust as it is a special experience for Muslims to pray in Hagia Sophia, one will have the same in this mosque. This also means that there is an additional attraction for tourists from Islamic countries.โ€

President Erdogan, in a speech to the regional leaders of his party, also sounded very pleased that the construction had been completed. โ€œFor years, since childhood, they have said it couldnt be done. But God has destined us to build this.โ€