Turkish President Erdoğan presents Cuba mosque project to Castro

Turkish President Erdoğan presents Cuba mosque project to Castro

Turkish President Erdoğan presents Cuba mosque project to Castro

AA Photo

Although Cuban officials have already agreed with Saudi Arabia for the construction of a mosque in Havana, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has told Cuban President Raul Castro that Ankara would like to conduct its own project similar to Istanbul’s iconic Ortaköy mosque in another Cuban province.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Castro in Havana on Feb. 11, Erdoğan said Cuban officials had already made an agreement with Saudi Arabia for the construction of a mosque in Havana.

“We want to build the mosque ourselves. We don’t want a partner. If you find it appropriate, we would like to build it in Havana. But if you have promised a Havana mosque to other people, then we can build our Ortaköy Mosque in another Cuban province,” Erdoğan quoted himself as saying to Castro.

Mustafa Tutkun, the vice general manager of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), announced in November 2014 that Ankara had been negotiating with Cuban officials to build a mosque on two hectares of land in Havana’s historic center. The Diyanet had proposed the construction of a mosque similar to the picturesque Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul, which was built by Ottoman Armenian architects Garabet and Nigoğayos Balyan in 1856.

Erdoğan added on Feb. 11 that “Cuban officials have no negative attitude” regarding the issue, stressing that the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), as well as the Diyanet, will finalize the deal.

He also said he recommended combining Cuba’s culture and tourism ministries to Castro, like Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did. “Then, Cuba’s tourism revenues can be used in cultural projects,” Erdoğan said, adding that Castro agreed with him, but jokingly responded that he was actually thinking about abolishing both ministries.

The mosque that ‘Columbus saw’

The Turkish president hit international headlines in November when he claimed that Christopher Columbus had seen a mosque in Cuba when the first European explorer discovered the New World in 1492.

“Muslim sailors arrived at the shores of America in 1178. In his diaries, Christopher Columbus referred to the presence of a mosque on top of a mountain in Cuba,” Erdoğan said on Nov. 15, 2014, speaking at the closing ceremony of the first Latin American Muslim Leaders summit in Istanbul.

Dr. Youssef Mroueh of the as-Sunnah Foundation of America had publicized the claim about a pre-Columbian mosque in Cuba, writing in 1996: “Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, Oct. 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain.”

Some Muslim scholars aside, the same diary entry is widely understood as a metaphoric reference to a protuberance on the summit of a mountain that resembled a mosque’s dome or minaret.