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Pro-gov’t foundation building criticized for blocking silhouette of historic Süleymaniye Mosque

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A building under construction in İstanbul’s Fatih district owned by Turkey’s pro-government Foundation for the Expansion of Knowledge (İlim Yayma Vakfı) has sparked criticism for blocking the silhouette of the historic Ottoman-era Süleymaniye Mosque, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, local media reported on Wednesday.

The construction of the building, which started in 2019, is expected to be completed by 2024. Turkish media reported that the chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

A number of people have opposed the construction of the building, arguing that it will block the silhouette of the Süleymaniye Mosque and distort the city skyline.

“Even if it’s legal, it’s still a great atrocity to do this to such a treasure as the silhouette of the Süleymaniye Mosque. Don’t do it!” İstanbul Municipality Deputy Secretary-General Mahir Polat, who is responsible for cultural heritage, tweeted on Wednesday.

“Did you say betrayal? [It’s] to history, our ancestors, Sinan [architect of the Süleymaniye Mosque] and Istanbul…” said Semih Kaplanoğlu, an acclaimed figure in contemporary Turkish cinema.

Sharing a photo of the building under construction on Twitter on Thursday, Turkish author and poet Seyfettin Araç said, “This is exactly what political Islam looks like!”

President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which has its roots in political Islam, have long been accused by critics of seeking to erode the country’s secular principles.

“[It seems that] architect Sinan built Süleymaniye in the wrong place! He unnecessarily occupied a huge area…” author Veysel Hanzadeoğlu said in a tweet.

Prominent Turkish writer Ahmet Ümit also reacted to the construction of the building, saying it would destroy İstanbul’s unique skyline.

“This is called murder. The construction should be stopped immediately,” he added.

Historian Mehmet Öz said that erecting the building wouldn’t just make Sinan the Architect and Suleiman the Magnificent turn in their graves, but also betray the legacy of the civilization that the AKP government is so proud of.

In the wake of the mounting criticism, the foundation on Wednesday released a written statement arguing that their new building would, on the contrary, make Süleymaniye Mosque more visible.

“A building suitable for the historic silhouette of the area that occupies less space [than the building it’s replacing] is being erected. Our new building, therefore, will … make the mosque more visible,” they said.

Erdoğan’s AKP has been widely criticized by İstanbulites for the over-urbanization of the city due to the building of new structures on what used to be green spaces and even farms.

In a speech he made in 2017, Erdoğan said, “The most important beauty of ancient cities is that they melt the new in their body, and knead it again by adding their essence, without losing their character. İstanbul is a truly exceptional city in this respect. But we failed to appreciate this city, we betrayed this city, we still do, and I am also responsible for it.”

The president also said in early 2019 that some of the historic buildings on İstanbul’s famous peninsula will be demolished and rebuilt by a joint Qatari-Turkish company.

“All that historic heritage et cetera will be demolished with the cooperation of a Qatari-Turkish company and Kiptaş [a municipal-run contractor] and will be rebuilt based on the originals,” Erdoğan stated. He went on to say that the area would be transformed into a “major attraction” after reconstruction.

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