Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman mosques

Erdogan’s AK Party and TOKI (the national housing commission) have overseen a boom in construction and urban re/development. Including of houses of worship designed to reference a "golden age" of Turkish identity, while also furthering the Islamicization of the country and providing an ongoing economic engine.1

Much of typical Turkish life has been transformed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially when it comes to Islam and profit. Many of Turkey’s 75,000 mosques were historically built and maintained by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, according to a community’s needs for prayer space. It was not assumed that a new neighborhood or a college campus, for example, necessarily required a mosque. Such decisions depended on both the ruling government’s perspective on religion and society and the levels of urban and rural development at the time. Between 2006 and 2009 — Erdogan became prime minister in 2002 — 9,000 additional mosques went up throughout Turkey. Like his bridges, airports, pastel-pastiche apartment towers and luxury shopping malls, Erdogan’s mosques have themselves become engines of national economic growth, as well as symbols of his New Turkey.


Erdogan is ordering the construction of mosques much as Suleiman the Magnificent once gave orders to Mimar Sinan. But as Bozdogan points out, there were many styles of mosques throughout the Ottoman Empire; in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, Ottoman Baroque and Ottoman Neoclassical were common creative experiments. The Ottomans did not hesitate to seek out modern European influences for a Westernized future and seldom looked back to some glorious past. Erdogan, however, sees such 18th- and 19th-century mosques as a contamination, not purely Turkish like the mosques of the 16th century. Bulent Batuman, an associate professor of urban design at Bilkent University in Ankara, suggests that Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman mosques are not nostalgic, which would mean an acceptance of the Ottoman Empire’s demise; for Erdogan, they are “a disavowal of such failure” and a forward-looking attempt to restore the past’s glory.