Geopolitics

Why Turkey Is Building Mosques Around The World

A recently inaugurated mega-mosque near Washington D.C. is one of many the Turkish government has built in an effort to extend its influence and tout a moderate model of Islam.

Erdogan inaugurates the new mosque in Maryland on April 2.
Erdogan inaugurates the new mosque in Maryland on April 2.
Adrien Lelievre

-Analysis-

ANKARA â€" President Barack Obama's decision not to attend the April 2 inauguration of a new mosque near Washington D.C. might have spoild the party a bit. The event was billed, after all, as the highlight of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent trip to the United States.

The mosque in the state of Maryland is the centerpiece of the Diyanet Center of America (DCA), a vast complex that includes other buildings such as a cultural center and Turkish baths. The self-stated mission of the project is to "enlighten American society about Islamic culture through religious knowledge."

The DCA arrives in the U.S. as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made the fear of Islam one of his main campaign arguments, promising among other things that if elected, he will ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Ottoman nostalgia

Ankara shelled out $110 million for construction of the mosque. The building, which has two minarets, features Ottoman architecture style in fashion under the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

At the height of its power, under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), the Ottoman Empire's influence was spread across Europe, Asia and Africa. From their base in the Topkapi Palace â€" their main residence overlooking the city of Istanbul â€" the Ottoman sultans inspired both fear and respect within the Royal Courts of Europe.

President Erdogan has always been nostalgic for those glory days, yearning to restore Turkey’s past greatness, both within and beyond its borders â€" with Islam at the center of his political and cultural project. For that reason, Turkey began building and renovating more and more mosques worldwide, starting in 2002 when Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.

The effort began with construction sites in areas that were previously part of the Ottoman Empire, such as the Balkans, where Turkish infuence is still strong. Last year, Erdogan laid the foundation for a gigantic mosque in Tirana, the capital of Albania.

The dome of the Carol Mosque in Constata in Romania â€" Photo: Alexandra Morton Tyers

"Turkey feels it has a duty toward the Sunni Muslim community. And this duty goes much farther than the borders of the former Ottoman Empire," says Jean-François Pérouse, director of the French Institute for Anatolian Studies (IDEA) in Istanbul.

An ISIS antidote?

Turkey's religious diplomacy is driven by the concept of soft power, Pérouse explains. Borrowed from the academic field of International Relations, soft power states that a country’s strength is derived not only from its military and economic dimensions, but also from its culture, its international image and the example it is able to set through both words and actions.

Erdogan likes to extol the merits of the so-called "Turkish model" â€" a combination of economic liberalism, religious conservatism and democratic standards. In previous years, the model was hailed in some circles abroad. But nowadays it isn't faring as well, mostly because of Erdogan's shifts towards authoritarianism and his ambivalent stance on Syria.

Yes despite Turkey’s recent diplomatic setbacks and increasing international isolation, Ankara continues its worldwide project of mosque construction in order to spread a moderate vision of Islam. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, credited in the 2000s as the mind behind the "neo-Ottoman policy," declared that Turkey’s vision of Islam could act as an "antidote" to the ideology espoused by the Islamic State (ISIS), which draws its ideas from the Sunni movement of Wahhabism.

As a consequence, the budget allocated to the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet iÅŸleri BaÅŸkanlığı) â€" tasked, among other things, with building mosques abroad â€" reached $2 billion in 2015, Foreign Affairs reports.

Ankara's efforts have proven controversial in some cases. In Romania, people are divided about the construction in Bucharest of the largest mosque in Europe. Similar fears rose in Albania. "If it doesn't want to look arrogant, Turkey needs to adapt its policy to the countries in which the mosques are being built," says Pérouse.

Nevertheless, Turkey's remains committed to its soft-power push, even in countries where a Muslim presence is not historically strong. The Maryland mosque is a case in point. Similar mosque-building projects are also in progress in Haiti and some South America countries. Leaders in Latin America may remember comments that Erdogan made two years ago, when he insisted publicly that Muslims discovered America three centuries before Columbus.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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