Protests against the construction plans to pave over Istanbul's Gezi park have exploded into a national standoff. If the project goes to a popular referendum, what will really be at stake?
ISTANBUL - I can be considered as someone who has his roots in the Islamic community, more or less.
I have been among both the most radical and most moderate of Islamic groups.
I have spent time both above and beyond these groups, my writings in the pages of Islamic magazines.
I know the Islamic community’s dreams about Istanbul, more or less.
For example, there was the dream of “reconquering Istanbul.”
The Welfare Party members used to say “Istanbul shall be reconquered” during their local election campaigns 20 years ago.
Actually, what they meant was:
“We do not want to be stuck in the outskirts of the city. We too, want to exist, to be visible at the center of the city; we want to be heard.”
That was a very righteous demand indeed.
This demand became a reality in the following years anyway; just as any other righteous demand.
For example, there was the dream of the Hagia Sofia and there still is.
I have witnessed the chanting of the slogan: “let the chains be broken – let Hagia Sofia be opened” when I was just a kid.
It is the greatest yearning of the traditional pro-Ottoman movements that the Hagia Sofia be opened to prayer as a Mosque instead of its current museum status.
Books like “Mahzun Mabet”, the glorious conferences Necip Fazil gave new meaning to this desire to have the Hagia Sophia reopened as a place of worship…
Shortly: The ideal of Hagia Sophia being reopened for prayer is one that we know and recognize; it is still alive.
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Gezi park, seen from above (Chianti)
However, I have neither witnessed nor heard of any such ideal among the Islamic community to “rebuild the Artillery Barracks,” as Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan is calling for, sparking the protests to save the last park in central Istanbul.
No, I have never heard of a yearning for the Artillery Barracks in my life.
Never a dream or a speech, I was not even aware of the story of the Artillery Barracks until very recently.
Ask anyone from the community, you will get the same answer.
They would say: “we have never heard of such a thing.”
Therefore, Erdogan’s call for the Artillery Barracks is not one to match up with the traditional Islamic ideals; It is a personal notion; a notion according to his personal taste of architecture and urbanism.
I asked the experts, they say: The Artillery Barracks building is an eclectic building not in harmony with the architectural tradition and spirit of Istanbul. It does not sit well with the architectural style with the signet of Mimar Sinan.
You cannot revive the history even if you can build the barracks exactly the way it was because it will be just a brand new imitation of the historic one.
There has to be serious reference data about a currently nonexistent historic building to be rebuilt. There is no such inventory for the Artillery Barracks.
Moreover, if you have a dream of rebuilding currently nonexistent historical buildings, there are many demolished mosques with inventories; waiting for our attention.
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Taksim Artillery Barracks. Demolished in 1939 (Wikipedia)
Taksim Square was not surrounded with concrete buildings when the Artillery Barracks was in existence. Therefore, building the Artillery Barracks today means adding one more construction to the breathing space of Taksim.
Despite all these, there will be a referendum on the rebuilding of the Artillery Barracks.
Just because ErdoÄŸan said the word.
Now, please let your conscience speak:
Will the ones who will vote “yes” say “yes” to the Artillery Barracks, or will they say “yes” for Erdogan to keep his word?
Will it be the Artillery Barracks or Erdogan’s power and charisma put to vote?
Let there be no doubt: it will be the charisma of Erdogan.
When the referendum is over: It will be bad for Istanbul if Erdogan’s charisma is saved.
It will be bad for Erdogan’s charisma if Istanbul is saved.
The great city of Istanbul is under the mangle of such a dilemma and deadlock.
I cannot say anything but “May Allah help you Istanbul.”