Tension high in Istanbul grove amid police blockade

Tension high in Istanbul grove amid police blockade

Tension high in Istanbul grove amid police blockade

Local activists opposed to the cutting down of trees staged a protest march on Oct. 25. AA Photo

Tensions over the construction of a small mosque next to the protected Validebağ grove on Istanbul’s Asian side are growing, after local activists opposed to the cutting down of trees staged a protest march on Oct. 25.

Police set up iron barricades to cordon off the perimeter of the construction site ahead of a call to hold a picnic in the grove on Oct. 26 to denounce the construction works, which are continuing despite a recent stay of execution order from an administrative court. A riot control vehicle with water cannon (TOMA) and riot police officers were also dispatched to the zone.

Following a tense week that saw many scuffles erupting at the site of the project, dozens of mostly local people marched to the grove late on Oct. 25. The local Üsküdar Municipality rejects claims that the land for the project was part of the historic grove, saying that the deed is municipal property and the construction does not violate the law.

The march came a few hours after the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Mehmet Görmez, called for both sides to exercise restraint, urging people not to measure “the love for prayer and the love for nature” against one another.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has a private residence in the Üsküdar district, has also gotten involved in the heated debate, suggesting that those who are against the project were “disturbed by the mosque.”

“People want to go there, walk, drink their tea. There is nothing in the project that the residents should fear. It is not inside Validebağ grove either. But maybe some were uncomfortable because it is a masjid [small mosque],” Erdoğan told a group of media representatives on Oct. 25.

The opposition, meanwhile, accused the local municipality of using religion in order to make more profits. “They are trying to use the mosque card to claim that people are against places of worship. This is completely false. There are 26 mosques in the area, four of which are very close,” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Mahmut Tanal on Oct. 25.

The Üsküdar Municipality has also been under fire after removing the protected status of the grove to pave the way for a leisure complex including wedding halls, open-air theaters and artificial ponds. Local activists recently collected 80,000 signatures against the project.

The grove hosts a number of historic buildings, including the Abdülaziz Mansion and the Adile Sultan Pavilion.

The site has also been the scene of many classic Turkish movies, including the legendary 1970s comedy film “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Chaos Class).