The divided mosque
Publish date 18-10-2021
Taksim Square and the political use of places of worship. A radical distortion of Taksim's original idea ...
On several occasions, in this space, we have faced the complex problem of the role of new or ancient religious monuments, of the possibility of their full use and also of the distortion of their purpose of use for markedly political and propaganda purposes, in the Turkey of the third. Millennium. There is obviously a red thread, which links the events of the former museums of Hagia Sophia and San Salvatore in Chora in Istanbul, or the religious monuments legacy of a glorious past history such as the Hagia Sophia in Bursa and the church of Germuş in Edessa or again, the very recent inauguration of the mosque on Taksim square in Istanbul.
This last building, difficult to call a monument in a city so extraordinary for history, art and masterpieces, was inaugurated by the President of the Turkish Republic himself who, once again, brought together political leadership and alleged religious leadership in his person, addressing the crowd. with what in other contexts would be called a homily, rather than a statesman's speech. The date of the inauguration was not accidental: May 28 also represents the starting date of the peaceful protests in Gezi Park in 2013, protests not so much aroused by the threatened destruction of a small city park, but by the planned transformation of a symbolic place of New Republic, born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. This transformation has actually been slowed down a bit.
But the civil resistance of Gezi Park was swept away with an uncompromising repression and the symbolic heart of Atatürk's Turkey was definitively transformed with a religious building inaugurated eight years later, on the same day which also coincides with the date of the capitulation of Byzantine Constantinople to Mohammed II the Conqueror: May 28, 1453. We are at the apotheosis of the "Pan-Turkish" dream, disguised as a "Neo-Ottoman" project (the current historical and political conditions are too different compared to the imperial era), of the maximum leader of the he last twenty years in Turkey, well celebrated by a well-known pro-government newspaper, Akşam, which in an article entitled "It was very beautiful" writes: "A mosque was built in Taksim and neither the sharia law arrived, nor did the republic collapse (With evident irony towards those who speak of the emergence, not too veiled, of their own aims of political Islam). In fact, fewer and fewer people are applauding. To perceive a growing indignation, it is not necessary to enter the political dimension of the current drift.
In the case of the Taksim Mosque, there was a choral outcry on the architectural-urbanistic inadequacy of the feat. As Mucella Tapici, architect, recalls, the Taksim square, in its quality as an urban and historical site at the same time, has always had a unity which is an expression of the modernization of the republican period. But very soon, the same urban structures were transformed into an area of ideological conflict: the eternal clash between secular politics and popular religious soul, both with an authoritarian tendency. A radical distortion of the original idea of Taksim as a point where the main water lines from the north of Istanbul were collected and distributed to other parts of the city (the square takes its name from the stone tank of the Ottoman period located in it) .
Of course, this symbolic urbanistic upheaval has now experienced a devastating acceleration: the construction of the mosque (which originally had to host 600 seats, became 2,500) has caused serious damage to the archaeological remains of the cistern just mentioned, and occupies a decidedly too large area. congested, to the detriment of its own architecture and that of the surrounding buildings.
As the political scientist, Kemal Can, observes, it is an attempt to impose a political hegemony, softened with a cultural semblance, which ends in the imitation of motifs from the past, revealing, in reality, a total lack of consistency. An investment at risk, whose symbolic charge could deflate much faster than that of the Cumhuriyet Anıtı (monument of the Republic), built by Pietro Canonica and inaugurated in 1928, which has always been the navel of the square, with a proud Atatürk in the act of driving the people towards a future, which at the time perhaps imagined different.
NP Giugno/Luglio 2021