Mosque construction in Istanbul grove continues despite court order
The construction of a mosque in Istanbul’s Validebağ grove proceeded on Oct. 23 under police escort. DHA PhotoThe construction of a mosque in Istanbul’s Validebağ grove proceeded on Oct. 23 despite a court’s stay of execution order amid growing outcry among local activists, who have long denounced attempts to open one of Istanbul’s largest and last remaining green areas to construction.
Police officers took huge security measures as locals also gathered nearby to express their anger.
An Istanbul administrative court suspended the construction project of the mosque after the contracted company launched excavation works in a dawn operation under a large police escort.
The Validebağ grove, located in the middle of a large residential area on the hills of Üsküdar, has long been a protected area due to its historic assets.
But the local municipality recently moved to remove the protected status to pave the way for a leisure complex including wedding halls, open-air theaters and artificial ponds.
The mosque project has also pit locals against Üsküdar Mayor Hilmi Türmen, who has claimed that the land where it is slated to be built was outside the grove and owned by the municipality.
“There is no mosque in the area. Residents have been making efforts for seven or eight years to build one there. It was planned during the previous term. The land’s property is owned by the Üsküdar Municipality,” Türmen said Oct. 22, claiming that a majority of locals were in favor of its construction.
“When we ask ‘why are you against it?’ They tell us, ‘You will destroy the trees.’ But I showed them, there is not even grass in this area. To be honest, 80 percent of the residents want this mosque and only 20 percent are against. It is being built by the residents themselves. Those who want it don’t make the same noise that those who are against,” he added.
More controversially, Türmen accused local activists who have collected 80,000 signatures for a petition against the project of being “fake environmentalists,” arguing that the area had previously been used as a parking lot by many residents.
He also vowed to file legal complaints against those demonstrating in opposition to the project. “Unfortunately too much tolerance and goodwill drives people wild and makes them believe that they are right. They aren’t even on legal ground,” he said.
Türmen’s condescending attitude angered local activists, who themselves said they would file a lawsuit against him over his words.
Üsküdar is home to many historic green areas, including the Hüseyin Avni Paşa grove, which has reportedly been sold to government ally Cengiz İnşaat, one of the five contractors that won a tender for a third airport that will also result in the clear-cutting of northern Istanbul’s last major green area.