Translated by Translators for Justice
by Fırat Güllü
Imagine a scene like this: The representatives of the Alewi are visiting the Beyoglu Mayor and demand a worship house to gather under the same roof as they are quite disperse in İstanbul. With this aim in view, they ask permission from the municipality to build a large djemevi and ask help to find a site for it, which will be funded by themselves. The Mayor, who belongs to a party composed of conservative Sunnis, accepts to offer help despite any possible reactions from his party. Social Democrats, The Greens and the Gay embrace the project. Thus, starts a big modern djemevi construction in Taksim Square. When a group of fundamentalist conservatists gather to protest and block the project, the security forces protect the area to ensure continuation of the construction.This must be what we call civilization. A few years ago, a similar situation happened in Koln during a mosque construction that caused an uproar. To my knowledge, in spite of the protests by the Neo-Nazis, the site is still under construction and it will be finished soon. The process, every step of which was carried out with transparency adhering to the criteria for the basic human rights, was followed in Turkey with great attention. Did it set an example for us? Although we may consider the unlikelihood of the scenario above, it can also be stated that to the extent to which it were regarded as impossible, claiming such a statement would be far-fetched. Our traditions are a bit different. In our tradition, it is the sultans and court officials who have the worship houses constructed, the most spectacular of which have been Sunni mosques.
Mr. Prime Minister announced his tendency to maintain this tradition in modern times while he was entering his self-proclaimed “mastery phase” when he announced his projects that could change the landscape of İstanbul. He has a utopia pertaining İstanbul: a 21st century city that extends towards the Black Sea, with its new airport and the Third Bridge, which is crowned with a man-made (not God given) İstanbul channel, that hosts skyscraper mosques well-suited for a 20- million “Muslim city” with its modern towers, artificial pools and surrounding highly unnatural landscape designs. However, a special place in İstanbul has an essential role in this utopia: Taksim Square, a place facing the threat of losing its identity and history through pedestrianization projects, left alone during Ottoman Times as it was a “non-Muslim minority neighborhood”, but targeted by the government during the “mastery phase” because it is surrounded by the symbols of “liberal elitism”, on the other hand, a place where the people and the laborers strive to write an alternative history beyond the social site engineering projects enforced from above.
How can one make sense of the destructive conservativeness that found life in the Prime Minister’s personality and gave rise to Taksim project? It would be fair to say that “aesthetics of revenge” are controlling such a scheme that we don’t usually encounter in city planning. What we are face to face is far from the aesthetics of environmental design and landscape construction, it is rather directed by the revenge to be taken from the Republican elites and their İstanbul. So to say, the evolution that the city has gone through during the last century, its changing needs and growing population are not taken into account. This notion of city planning that emerged together with Mr. Prime Minister, is derived from the desire to take a complete aesthetic revenge from the Republic. Ataturk Cultural Center, which already stands as an abandoned wreck will be demolished and a cultural center will be erected instead -undoubtedly it will be a serious issue to what extent shows such as operas and ballet performances– kicked out by the actors and actresses working within the institution- will take place. Small and nice mosques spread throughout the neighborhoods in Taksim will not suffice and an ugly modern mosque similar to that of Ataşehir and that is higher than the closest church adhering to Ottoman customs and traditions will be built -it will most probably appeal to a small community except for certain occasions. In this way, “non-Muslim Taksim” will be converted to Islam, Byzantine will be conquered again, a replica of forgotten artilleryman barracks that was demolished during the early years of the Republic because it was allegedly used as headquarters of the 31 March uprising will be built, thus Taksim’s only natural and free place will be gone. To add meaning to this construction, having no real purpose other than avenging the past resentments, a shopping mall will be erected underneath. In brief, a crooked building that has nothing to do with city planning will be created. No one’s opinion will be considered. All will be decided behind closed doors and the final decisions will be imposed if need be.
Thus, it is this ill mental health, this greed sprung from political power, this ego-centric bully mentality that have hit a dead end because of the recent public uprising. In the past, it was the public and the laborers who gave Taksim Square its spirit and wrote an alternative history surmounting the artificial symbols of the government’s elitists. Now, the ones challenging the efforts of those who think they can reign the new system struggling to avenge the old rulers, are once again the large crowds. Again, it will be them who will help Taksim regain its spirit, which is suffering a great deal because of the recent constructions.