Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will open a large mosque flanking Taksim square in Istanbul on Friday to coincide with the anniversary of the Gezi Park protests, Doğan News Agency (DHA) reported on Monday.
The mosque will include space for 2,250 worshipers, a conference centre, exhibition halls and a car park, DHA said.
The Gezi Park protests, which began on May 28, 2013 in a small park next to the square, spread across the country to oppose the increasingly autocratic policies of Erdoğan and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Sparked by plans to redevelop Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last remaining green spaces, the protests channelled popular frustrations with the government on a range of issues including perceived democratic backsliding and pro-Islamist policies. Twelve people died and thousands were injured over the summer of 2013 after police used tear gas and heavy-handed riot control methods against the largely peaceful demonstrators.
Turkey’s religious right has long called for a mosque at Taksim. The AKP government approved the plans in January 2017. Beyoğlu, the district around Taksim, was home to many non-Muslim communities during the 19th century.
Taksim is a historical centre of democratic struggle and leftist protests in Turkey. At least 34 people were killed in the square in 1977 when gunmen opened fire on a May Day workers’ march. After that, the authorities barred traditional May Day marches there.
While Gezi Park remains, the government concreted over Taksim following the protests, turning the square into a bare landscape. Over a decade ago, the AKP shut an opera house and cultural centre on the square named after Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk for refurbishment. It has never re-opened.