Source: Buzz Feed News
ISTANBUL — Çamlıca Hill rises over Istanbul, reaching nearly 1,000 feet above the sea. Pronounced chamli-ja, it is the city’s highest point, overlooking the Bosphorus strait that divides the city’s Asian and European halves. Its peak offers spectacular views of the ships and ferries traversing the waterway and some of the ancient city’s architectural treasures and the rolling landscapes surrounding them. In the summer it offers a breezy retreat from the heat of the city. Sultan Mahmoud II, widely considered the last of the great Ottoman leaders before the empire sank into its deadly malaise, loved Çamlıca, really loved it, so much so that he referred to it in his poetry: “My heart is full of desire, my great lover. Let’s go to Çamlıca tomorrow, my dear Lord.”
Grunting bulldozers now pummel Çamlıca’s face. Construction cranes rise from its surface, alongside six minarets, as they build an immense and controversial new mosque that will be Turkey’s biggest ever. Many of the city’s architects oppose it as an aesthetic travesty, and it almost certainly violates regulations; a lawsuit opposing it is wending its way through the courts.
But the mosque construction moves forward, with contractors even working on Saturdays. It is a signature project — perhaps the signature project — of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey and founder of the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He has shaped Istanbul and Turkey for decades, rising from mayor of this landmark city to prime minister and president over the last two decades. Teaming up with powerful and well-connected contractors and construction magnates, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey — a $23 billion government authority known by its acronym TOKI — is on a frenetic building spree. Across Turkey, new housing complexes, shopping centers, vast public works projects (including bridges, tunnels, and stadiums), and more and more mosques are rising.
“Every political power wants to leave a legacy.”
But in the mosque at Çamlıca and other public works projects, critics see a disregard for local needs in favor of the flashy and triumphant, with little consideration for the size of projects or the historical and recreational value of what they replace, which often includes green space or older mosques that could be renovated.
“Every political power wants to leave a legacy on the urban landscape,” said Ozlem Unsal, a researcher at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “Their works reflect the ideological power at work at its time. What’s happening in Turkey and Istanbul is no different.”
Turkey has risen globally in prominence in recent years as an export powerhouse, a diplomatic force and a key player in the war against ISIS. It has become a transit point for thousands of jihadis heading to Iraq and Syria, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees heading to Europe to escape the conflict zone. Once cautious, it has flexed its muscles by arming and training Syrian rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad, downing a Russian plane and establishing military bases in Iraq and Qatar.