Group attacks Istanbul art show, chants against ‘secularism’

Group attacks Istanbul art show, chants against ‘secularism’

Group attacks Istanbul art show, chants against ‘secularism’

A group of angry protesters attacked an art exhibition at Istanbul’s Abdülmecid Efendi Mansion on Oct. 21, chanting against secularism and vowing to prevent the exhibition from continuing.

The group of around five people entered the exhibition named “Doors Open to Those Who Knock” on the first floor of the Abdülmecid Efendi Mansion in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul’s Asian side, where businessman Ömer Koç’s art collection was opened to the public.

“Is this what secularism is about? The country has reached this low because of [people like] you,” the group chanted during the attack on a nude sculpture titled “The Man Beneath the Sweater” by Ron Mueck, independent news website T24 reported.

The group then attempted to damage the Mueck work, pushing a security guard to the floor, chanting against secularism, and vowing to prevent such works being displayed. Other security guards then distanced them from the artwork and escorted them from the gallery space.

Visitors present at the exhibition reportedly protested against the attackers by applauding ironically.

Security guards told the T24 website that they handed the protesters to the police. They also stated that the attackers mistook the fireplace in the exhibition space for a minbar, where the imam stands to deliver sermons in mosques.

One of the attackers has been identified as Mahmut Alan, a former leader of the right-wing nationalist Great Union Party (BBP). Alan was later taken to testify to a prosecutor after he published a video of the attack on his Facebook account, news website Diken reported on Oct. 22.

“I pulled the sculpture down and threw it a couple of meters away,” Alan reportedly testified, adding that he believed the naked sculpture had been exhibited in a minbar. He was later freed by police. 

A second attack at the exhibition was reported the next day.

The attacks sparked a condemnation among many art lovers, but Nilhan Osmanoğlu, granddaughter of the late Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, reacted against the exhibition rather than the attack itself.

“The exhibition displayed by the Koç family at the mansion of the last caliph, Abdulmecid, should be removed! This disguised ‘exhibition’ in Kuzguncuk is a disgrace,” Osmanoğlu wrote on her Twitter account.

Conservative daily Yeni Söz reported on the attack on Oct. 22 and also pointed to the ongoing Istanbul Biennial as another possible target. Another pro-government newspaper source, daily Takvim, reported that “the disgrace exhibited in the historic mansion caused a scene.”

Koç Holding, the Turkish conglomerate chaired by Ömer Koç, said in a statement on Oct. 23 that “trying to create a perception that sacred values are being targeted with this exhibition has no basis.”

“Koç Holding has utmost respect to freedom of beliefs and the divinity of all beliefs,” the statement read.

The Abdulmecid Efendi Mansion, built in the 19th century as a hunting mansion, was handed to the Istanbul Revenue Office one year after the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923. In the 1980s, Kazım Taşkent, founder of the Yapı Kredi bank, bought the mansion and turned it into an exhibition space. It was then transferred to the Koç family after Koç Holding bought Yapı Kredi.