Turkey: The wound of Istanbul

  • A mosque and a cultural center are currently being built on Istanbul's Taksim Square.
  • The two buildings symbolize the two faces of Turkey: the conservative and the secular.
  • The cultural center, whose foundation stone is laid on Sunday, is to house a concert hall, a gallery, a cinema, theaters and a rooftop restaurant.

From Christiane Schlotter

Water cannons stand as long-term parkers at the entrance of Istanbul's Gezi Park, which was the center of the turmoil six years ago. Where citizens' children slept in tents and the Philharmonic performed in between, police cars formed a cordon day and night. The Gezi revolution is long gone, the square in front of the park, the Taksim, the most famous of the republic, but has since been no place to stay. Protesters no longer dare to cover themselves, but passers-by usually rush by as fast as if the square in central Istanbul were contaminated. The Taksim is an urban fallow, furnished with flagpole and lifts to subway and bus station in the underground. Öder is hardly. But now there is hope.

Two minarets have been growing in the sky for some time on the west side of Taksim. The construction of a mosque in this central location, which has been the site of the Republic Memorial since 1928, has long been controversial and fought over by courts. On February 9, 2017, the work began, the large dome is almost completed. On this Sunday, the foundation stone for a second dome construction will be laid on the opposite side of the square. Actually it will be a hemisphere, in bright red, behind a spectacular, transparent facade. Under this dome will find the Istanbul Opera, with 2500 seats. The building will also house a concert hall, a gallery, a cinema and theaters, as well as a rooftop restaurant with a Bosphorus view.

Mosque and opera house – these are the two faces of Turkey

Mosque and opera house symbolize the two faces of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's conservative-Muslim AKP has won about half of the votes in elections, and the other 50 percent have been divided among the opposition parties, including the secular. This Turkish dichotomy will be reflected in the future on the Taksim. Murat Tabanlıoğlu, the architect of the opera house, hopes to find "finally peace" on this square.

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Where the new opera will be, there is still a huge gap left. There stood the Atatürk Cultural Center, abbreviated AKM (by Atatürk Kültür Merkezi). This was considered a Turkish "palace of the republic", as an icon of secularism, with an aluminum facade from the progressive sixties. During the gezi weeks, the cultural center was already empty, partly because an asbestos removal was urgently needed. As an advertising space for the political resistance, however, the AKM experienced a brief renaissance. "We do not bow down" was then standing in giant letters on the facade, and "Silence Tayyip". From the high flat roof waved every evening the demonstrators. After that, the end of the construction was not yet decided, but in June 2017 Erdoğan announced the demolition. The Istanbul Chamber of Architects protested, calling the AKM an indispensable part of the urban culture of remembrance – all in vain.

Then it was feared that a shopping mall could emerge instead of the AKM. But in November 2017, Erdoğan surprisingly promised the resurrection of the cultural center, in a reconstruction that will, however, be more futuristic-looking than replica. For continuity stands above all the name of the architect, Murat Tabanlıoğlu, he is the son of Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, the builder of the old AKM. Tabanlıoğlu junior was allowed to personally present his design to the president.

The architect, whose Istanbul office is located in many parts of the world, had not expected such a commission, he says. He then showed Erdoğan pictures of Milan's La Scala, the opera houses of Sydney and Oslo, and the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. In the legitimate assumption that Erdoğan has not yet dealt with opera houses. When the president recently attended a concert by the Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say for the first time, this premiere in Turkey almost sparked a cultural conflict.

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