Turkey has marked the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on its 563rd anniversary with a grandiose ceremony including the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, alongside an estimated 1 million spectators, in the city’s coastal Yenikapı Square.
Some 9,000 police officers, five helicopters, one submarine, one frigate, three coast guard boats and 27 police dogs were on duty yesterday in order to ensure the safety of the event, which was ambitiously planned by a grand team of 1,200, the city’s police chief, Mustafa Çalışkan, told the state-run Anadolu Agency.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which was one of the organizers of the event alongside the Istanbul Governor’s Office, also planned the logistical aspects to ensure strong participation in the ceremony by scheduling a total 5,005 buses to bring citizens to the square from 38 districts of the province. A total of 146 ferries also transported citizens from 26 quays in 21 of the city’s districts.
Two helicopters constantly patrolled above the square while three other helicopters, including a Skorsky, were kept ready to intervene in case of a security breach.
Civilian aviation was barred to enter the skies above Yenikapı Square throughout the ceremony.
Meanwhile, the participants, who numbered around 1 million, entered the square after going through one of the 150 security gates placed around the large meeting venue, which was decorated with nine giant screens in order to allow attendees to watch a 563-member Ottoman military team known as a “Mehter.”
The world’s largest 3D mapping stage was employed to visualize the conquest of the city, then called Constantinople, by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (“Mehmed the Conqueror”) on May 29, 1453.
Yıldırım also addressed the crowd, followed by Erdoğan.
Moreover, a show by the Turkish Air Force’s “Turkish Stars,” the air force’s aerobatics team, and a fireworks display was performed as part of the ceremony, which was broadcast live in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Russian
and sign language, as well as Turkish.
A number of roads, including Aksu Avenue in Bakırköy and the coastal road stretching between Fatih and Aksakal Street, were closed in Istanbul on May 29 between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m.
Istanbul’s Eyüp Municipality also organized a “Youth and Conquest Feast” yesterday at the Golden Horn, which included activities such as running and a bicycle race.
The event ended with the show of the municipality’s mehter team and the distribution of “conquest rice.”
A day earlier, on May 28, hundreds of Islamists prayed at the gates of Istanbul’s world famous Hagia Sophia, the towering former Byzantine church which now serves as a museum, in order to demand the right to pray there as part of an event called the “conquest prayer.”
An imam led a prayer in front of the vast building while crowds chanted for the opening of Hagia Sophia.
“In the name of thousands of our brothers we demand to be allowed to pray inside the Hagia Sophia mosque,” said Salih Turhan, the president of the Anatolia Youth Association, which organized the demonstration coinciding with celebrations for the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.
Last year’s celebrations in Yenikapı Square were also a major political tour de force, as hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the venue just a week before the general election on June 7, 2015.