Turkey’s leading imam wades into Istanbul grove row

Turkey’s leading imam wades into Istanbul grove row

Turkey’s leading imam wades into Istanbul grove row

Clashes between the police and demonstrators broke out on Oct. 25. DHA photo

Mehmet Görmez, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), has become involved in the heated debate on efforts to build a mosque on a grove on Istanbul’s Anatolian side, saying "love for prayer and love for nature should not be compared."

“A mosque will be built on an 800 square meter plot. You can see people who want to build a masjid [a small mosque] on one side, and others protesting the cutting down of trees there on the other side,” Görmez said, while attending a ceremony to mark the opening of a new forest area in the capital Ankara.

“The love for prayer and the love for nature should not be compared,” Görmez said, adding that people should not “express their anger by using such love.”

The 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 denouncing attempts to open one of Istanbul’s green areas to construction.

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 in order to pave the way for a leisure complex including wedding halls, open-air theaters and artificial ponds. 

Deputy faces police, man beaten

Mahmut Tanal, an MP for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed that the municipal guards keeping protesters away from the grove were not authorized to do so and were wearing fake uniforms. 

Tanal, who started supporting demonstrators at night on Oct. 24, returned the next day but was halted by the municipal police when he tried to stop a truck from entering the grove. 

He said he owned a large plot elsewhere in the area and he was ready to donate it to build a mosque if the Validebağ project was cancelled. 

Later in the day, a clash broke out between a small group and the police, resulting in one protester being injured in the head. 

Last year’s countrywide Gezi Park protests were triggered by a controversial plan to build a mall on a city park on the European side of Istanbul.