Mosque of the sultan

Mosque of the sultan

The giant Mimar Sinan Mosque (“Architect Sinan”) recently opened in Istanbul’s Ataşehir district is now being debated both from an architectural point of view and also because of the statements Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan made during its opening ceremony.

Erdoğan said, “There is the Süleymaniye [Mosque] in the European side; there is Architect Sinan’s first masterpiece in Istanbul, Şehzadebaşı Mosque. On the other hand there are also the Sultanahmet and Fatih mosques. However, on this side there was no Friday mosque; there was no “selatin” [sultan’s] mosque present. We wanted, we wished to have a few “selatin” mosques, Friday mosques on this side also. We decided to build them.”

However, those who know the meaning of “selatin” are opposed to these statements from two points of view:

1. “Selatin” (or “sultan’s”) is the adjective used for those mosques built from the personal wealth of the Ottoman sultans, or sultans’ sons, daughters and wives. Since the reign of the sultans has ended, and as far as we know, and Turkey is a republic, then no mosque, neither the Mimar Sinan Mosque in Ataşehir nor any other mosque to be built from now on can be a “selatin” mosque.

2. Istanbul has several “selatin” mosques not only on its European side but also on its Asian side. Mehmet Tezkan reminds us of the Selimiye, Mihrimah Sultan, and Beylerbeyi Mosques, for example. Thus, to say “There is no ‘selatin’ mosque in the Anatolian side” is a major mistake.

I don’t know if it is meaningful to build the debate on the question “does the prime minister consider himself a sultan?”, because when the prime minister said “selatin” mosque, it was obvious he meant his dream of mosques “big, bigger and greater in number.” Let’s say this might be a preliminary preparation for the planned giant mosque to be built at Çamlıca (Hill) in Istanbul.

However, if the same blunder had been made by another politician, for example main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, how would it have echoed in the press? Probably Kılıçdaroğlu would have been dragged through the mud, with some saying, “He does not even know what a ‘selatin’ mosque is,” and the subject would be carried on to such an extent that it would be related to Alevism.

Nonetheless, when the subject is the prime minister, general opinion says “Well, he can make such a small mistake,” and it is ignored. In other words, Erdoğan does not need to proclaim himself a sultan: his entourage and the media are already treating him like the sultan.

Well, they wished and wanted to build this mosque. That was not enough: They declared it was necessary. Then they did build this mosque. According to what? That is not known exactly. They will continue building more, because Erdoğan says, “We have to be one, be united. Because we have to build Turkey and Istanbul together.”

These are good messages, to be one and to be united, but how he draws the connection to “having to build Turkey and Istanbul together” is impossible to understand.

Take note of this
The construction of Turkey, thank God, has already been continuing at full speed for years. Istanbul’s population has doubled since Tayyip Erdoğan was metropolitan mayor. How much the construction sector has multiplied, how much more resilient the new buildings are against earthquakes, we have yet to learn.

Istanbul has one of the lowest rates of green area per person, and consequently one of the lowest levels of oxygen per person among world metropolises. It is fast approaching the point of no return, with projects like the third bridge, the destruction of Taksim’s Gezi Park, the 2-B law and the planned giant mosque at Çamlıca (another “selatin” mosque).

As long as the mentality that regards development as meaning only dense population and more concrete is dominant, and while this mentality cannot be criticized, and urbanism, culture, public space and citizen’s rights are seen as “unnecessary details,” then, indeed, mosques, bridges, roads, buildings and malls will be built according to the criteria of wishing first and then deciding from the very top, as long as they are bigger and more spectacular.

For this reason, I assume that there will be a “selatin” mosque built at Çamlıca, and its name will be the R.T. Erdoğan Mosque, and probably there will be a mausoleum inside. Take note of this!

Mehveş Evin is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared on July 23. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.