— The Erimtan Angle —

Writing a few days ago, Hugh Eakin posits that “late May of this year, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—Turkey’s powerful prime minister, a devout Muslim, and the self-styled leader of the new Middle East—announced that he would be erecting his own grand mosque above the Bosphorus. It will be more prominent than Suleiman’s [mosque in the old part of the city of Istanbul]. The chosen site—the Büyük Çamlıca Tepesi, or Big Çamlıca Hill, overlooking the city’s Asian shore—is 268 meters above sea level; it is easily the most conspicuous point of land in greater metropolitan Istanbul”.[1]

Building this big mosque would carry a lot of weight in Turkey. On a street-level, murmurs that Tayyip and his AKP government are moving Turkey down the slippery slope towards an Iranian state of affairs are always broodingly present and eerily upsetting to the average Turk, unencumbered by a strict observance of the Prophet’s rules and regulations and attached to the freedoms ushered in by Atatürk and his quasi-secularist establishment. In reality, Shia Iran appears far removed from the AKP’s pseudo-Ottoman designs for Turkey. Turkey’s secularist credentials have always been far from certain, in spite of erstwhile headscarf controversies and other distractions. The state’s firm hold on the nation’s religious institutions and on the population’s levels of piety has never been questioned or opposed.[2]  Still, an outside observer like Eakin can easily state that “[t]his is not the first time that Turkey’s deeply secular state has seemed to move in a more religious direction. As far back as 1967, a close replica of another sixteenth-century Sinan mosque was built in Ankara; a more daring, modernist design by Vedat Dalokay was rejected. Turgut Özal, who was prime minister in the late 1980s and is credited with beginning the economic opening to the world that has matured under Erdoğan, was a devout Muslim who went on the Hajj while in office. And Erdoğan’s own AKP party is a direct heir to the since-banned Islamist party of Necmettin Erbakan,[3] who briefly served as Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister in the 1990s (leading to a military coup in 1997). But what makes the recent changes particularly dramatic is that the Turks themselves seem to be generally embracing them: headgear has become a point of pride for many Anatolian businesswomen, and the recent alcohol bans appear to have been imposed as much by local communities—by some far more than others—as by higher authorities. Indeed, Erdoğan, now in his third term of office, has a huge base of popular support. And while the AKP has not quite gained the supermajority in parliament the prime minister has sought, it has had sufficient dominance to transform significant parts of the Turkish political system”.[4]

In his search for suitable spots to erect visible markers of his tenure at the head of Turkey’s state ship, Tayyip Erdogan has conjured up more architectural projects in Istanbul: under ‘the name [of] “Canal Istanbul“, [for example, ] Turkey’s prime minister [has also] announced his [self-styled] crazy project [in Turkish, “Çılgın Proje”]. He plans to build a canal on the European side of Istanbul which will link the Black Sea with Marmara sea and will allow large tankers to pass. Canal Istanbul will be around 30 miles long, 25 metres deep and 150 metres wide. Erdogan said “Istanbul will become a city with two peninsulas and an island”. This will of course be a big change for Istanbul. Also the real estate market around the area will rise. Erdogan didn’t mention the exact coordinations of the canal but name Catalca was mentioned during the conversation. Main aim of the Istanbul Canal project will be to relieve congestion through the Bosphorus Strait and reduce chances of an environmental disaster as tankers carrying oil and gas from Russia and Central Asia pass through the waterway separating the Asian and European halves of Istanbul. The project is planned to be completed in 2023 when the 100th anniversary of Turkish Republic will be celebrated. They also plan to build a third airport for Istanbul which will have capacity for 60 million passengers annually’.[5]  At the time, which was April 2011, the BBC reported that ‘Turkey will build a new waterway to bypass the heavily congested Bosphorus Strait, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced. He said the 150m-wide (492ft) “Canal Istanbul” would link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara that opens to the Aegean Sea via the Dardanelles. Mr Erdogan said the canal would be about 45km-long (31 miles), describing it as “the greatest project of the century”. He did not disclose the exact location’.[6]  But Tayyip’s Kanalistanbul promises may have been nothing but pre-election rhetorical fluff, and his search for a legacy marker now seems to have found its true focus in the Çamlıca Mosque Project.

Last July, an architect involved in the project, Hacı Mehmet Güner stated in the Turkish daily Milliyet that “We will build an even larger dome than our ancestors made”, adding that the proposed house of worship will be erected in the “classical style”, will possess six minarets (like the famed Sultan Ahmed Camii, the popular Blue Mosque), minarets that will be taller than those of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, whose tallest minarets are 344 feet.[7]  In other words, Tayyip’s mosque will look like an Ottoman structure, while at the same time referring to the current centre of ‘Sunni Islam’, Saudi Arabia. Even though the Saudis actually regard all Muslims as apostates and unbelievers, only accepting their own brand of Wahhabi Islam as true to Allah’s precepts, their pious largesse is visible all across the Islamic, and the rest of the, world. On the website belonging to Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), one can read that ‘Turkish and Saudi foreign policy perspectives mutually support each other and create synergy. Mutual high level visits between two countries and the “High Level Strategic Dialogue Mechanism” which was established between Turkey and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] in 2008 have become the driving forces for our activities towards the region. After the global economic crisis in 2009, Turkey-Saudi Arabia bilateral trade volume has been in recovery tendency. Trade volume between two countries reached 4.66 billion USD in 2010. The number of Turkish companies, mainly in contracting sector, which undertake huge projects in Saudi Arabia is increasing continuously. Similarly, there is a growing interest in Saudi business circles to Turkey. Saudi tourists visiting Turkey significantly increase every year since 2005. The recorded number of 84.000 Saudi tourists in 2010 is expected to rise considerably in 2011’.[8]

On 12 August 2010, the Global Islamic Finance Magazine reported that the ‘President [of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB)]’s visit to Turkey [at that time] . . . enhances scopes for the expansion of trade among the member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. During his visit, the IDB President Ahmad Mohamed Ali met with top Turkish officials in Ankara; first with President Abdullah Gül, then with the State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, State Minister Cevdet Yılmaz, Treasury Undersecretary İbrahim Çanakçı and TİKA President Musa Kulaklıkaya’.[9]  This last visit appeared to have been extremely important. TİKA or the Türk İşbirliği ve Koordınasyon Ajansı is a Turkish government agency set up in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union to assist and encourage the development of the newly independent Turkic states in Central Asia. Since 1999 the agency has been linked to the office of the Prime Minister and since 2002 has been assisting in achieving Turkey’s newly articulated foreign policy goals,[10] which I termed pseudo-Ottoman some time ago.[11]  Getting back to the just-quoted GIFM piece: ‘During  the IDB President’s talks with TİKA President Musa Kulaklıkaya’, the IDB President Ali expressed his satisfaction with the mutual co-operation between the two administrations. He further outlined that the relations gained momentum with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between TIKA and the IDB in 2008, TIKA President Musa Kulaklikaya further stated that the development of existing co-operation would bring benefits to both sides’. [12]  Saudi Arabia’s busy agenda in the field of global proselytizing is well-known, and now, it would transpire, it even coincides with Turkey’s willingness to solidify its soft-power prestige across the world. Writing in the self-professed rightwing online publication Canada Free Press, Joseph Klein declared last year that the “Saudi government uses billions of dollars in oil revenues to promote Wahhabism in America and across the globe. David D. Aufhauser, a former Treasury Department general counsel, told a Senate committee in June 2004 that estimates of Saudi government spending went “north of $75 billion.”  The money financed thousands of mosques, schools and Islamic centers, the employment of thousands of propagandists and the printing of millions of religious teaching tracts”.[13]  And, as reproduced by an anti-jihadist blog, ‘[a]ccording to a major investigation by Washington Post reporter David B. Ottaway published on August 19, 2004, the Saudi government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Call and Guidance pays the salaries of 3,884 Wahhabi missionaries and preachers, who are six times as numerous as the 650 diplomats in Saudi Arabia’s 77 embassies’.[14]  Turkey, for its part, is not shy of promoting Islam and mosque-building either. As reported by the Xinhua news agency: the head ‘of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs Mehmet Görmez visited China in 2011 and signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs. The two countries agreed to boost bilateral cooperation in religion affairs such as Islamic education, Quran printing and student exchange programs’, in addition to constructing mosques for Chinese Muslims, or Chinese-speaking practitioners of Islam known as Hui.[15]  And underlining this resolve to foster ties between an AKP-led Turkey and the People’s Republic of China, keen on pacifying its Chinese-speaking Muslims (or Hui), between 31 August and 7 September 2012, a “2012 China-Turkey Islamic Cultural Expo and Performances” was held at the Ali Emiri Culture Centre[16] in the Istanbul district of Fatih.[17]

Turkey and Saudi Arabia, cooperating to spread the Prophet’s word across the world. And , according to the above-quoted GIFM piece, the ‘ties between Islamic financial insitutions in Turkey [and Saudi Arabia are strengthened] and [these ties] can further help to diversify the growing sector of Islamic banking and finance which is set to soar to over $1.5 trillion US dollars by 2012’.[18]


[1] Hugh Eakin, “Turkey’s Towering Ambition” The New York Review of Books (17 September 2012). http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/sep/17/turkey-towering-ambition/.

[2] “The Turkish Army: Guardian of Turkish Secularism???” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (09 August 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/the-turkish-army-guardian-of-turkish-secularism/.

[3] “Turkey Loses its Islamist Figurehead: Erbakan has Died???” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (28 February 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/turkey-loses-its-islamist-figurehead-erbakan-has-died/.

[4] Hugh Eakin, “Turkey’s Towering Ambition”.

[5] “Prime Minister Erdogan’s crazy project” Istanbul View (no date). http://www.istanbulview.com/erdogans-crazy-project/.

[6] “Turkey to build waterway to bypass Bosphorus Straits” BBC News (April 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13207304.

[7] Hugh Eakin, “Turkey’s Towering Ambition”.

[8] “Turkey-Saudi Arabia Relations” Ministry of Foreign Affairs. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkey-saudi-arabia-relations.en.mfa.

[9] “The President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has made an official visit with delegates to discuss Islam” Global Islamic Finance Magazine (12 August 2010). http://islamic-finance.ru/blog/2010-08-12-102.

[10] “TİKA Tarihçesi” T.C. Başbakanlık TİKA. http://www.tika.gov.tr/tika-hakkinda/tarihce/1.

[11] Cfr. C. Erimtan, “A pseudo-Ottoman policy: Turkey’s new station in the world” Today’s Zaman (04 November 2010). http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&link=226284.

[12] “The President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) based in Jeddah”.

[13] Joseph A. Klein, “Libya and Counter-Terrorism At The United Nations” Canada Free Press (21 September 2011). http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/40549.

[14] “Saudi Arabia’s Funding of American Mosques” Defeat the Third Jihad (15 September 2012). http://dttj.blogspot.com/2010/08/saudi-arabias-funding-of-american.html.

[15] “China to launch Islamic cultural pageant in Turkey (2)” Xinhua (30 August 2012). http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/102774/7929173.html.

[17] “China to launch Islamic cultural pageant in Turkey” Xinhua (30 August 2012). http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90782/7929166.html.

[18] “The President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) based in Jeddah”.

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