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Erdogan's Folly
July/August 2013

 

 Neo-Ottoman: Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a very angry man. Not only has he had to deal with a gang of tree-hugging troublemakers just when he was trying to push through his new constitution, but the international media and EU ministers persist in insulting him. Worst of all, his pet Ottoman barracks project is in serious jeopardy.

Gezi Park used to be an unassuming patch of green by Taksim Square in Istanbul. It is now a symbol of widespread resentment against the Justice and Development party (AKP) government, in particular the prime minister. For some time, Erdogan has been planning to redevelop the whole area of Taksim, and the centrepiece of his plan was to rebuild the Ottoman Taksim military barracks, demolished in 1940. A "cultural preservation board", however, refused permission for the project in January. No matter — by May 1, a higher board conveniently overturned the decision, just in time for construction to start.

Why has Erdogan been so insistent on this project? In June he told the occupiers of Gezi Park, "Do what you like. We've made the decision and we will implement it accordingly." The man has a mission, and it is bigger than a mere whim of urban planning.

In 1909, the original Taksim barracks was the seat of an Islamic uprising against the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the nationalistic predecessor to the founders of the republic of Turkey. The CUP used the mutiny as an excuse to exile the last power-wielding Ottoman sultan, Abdulhamid II, who had adopted a controversial policy of pan-Islamisation throughout the empire. The barracks was turned into the first football stadium in Turkey in 1921. It was demolished in 1940, and Gezi Park was created.

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