Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the first mosque in Istanbul’s popular Taksim Square on Friday, eight years to the day after protests began there that shook his government.
The mosque is Erdogan’s mark on the square, the most famous area in Turkey’s economic capital, and a fulfilment of a 30-year-old dream.
The opening was met with enthusiasm, with several thousand people praying outside in the square because the mosque filled so quickly, an AFP correspondent said.
Some 4,000 people will be able to pray inside the mosque, which combines Ottoman-style with contemporary features. When Erdogan served as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s, he lamented the absence of a mosque in Taksim Square, noting that the only visible religious site was an Orthodox church in an area not too far away.
Although Turkey is a Muslim-majority country, the mosque’s construction which began in 2017 was criticized, with some opponents accusing Erdogan of seeking to “Islamise” the country and displace the founder of the secular modern republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The new building eclipses the “Republic Monument” in the square, which depicts the important figures of the Turkish War of Independence, including Ataturk. The mosque was initially intended to be inaugurated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But Erdogan, who pays strict attention to dates for events, finally opted to open the mosque on the day when anti-government protests started in 2013.
The square was the centre of the protests known as the “Gezi movement” and were met with a heavy-handed response from police. The opening also comes a day before the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Ottomans, a special day for the president nostalgic for past glories. And it is part of Erdogan’s bid to satisfy his pious and conservative electoral base during a period of growing economic difficulties.