Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2nd-L) and Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra (R) during a wreath-laying ceremony at Revolution Square in Havana, on February 11, 2015. AFP/Adalberto Roque
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled his ambitious plan to build a major Ottoman-style mosque in Cuba, saying it should be similar to a nineteenth century one on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the presidency said Thursday.
Erdogan acknowledged after holding talks with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana that Cuban officials had appeared to have already made an agreement with Saudi Arabia for the construction of a mosque in Havana.
But Erdogan, who caused astonishment last year by claiming Muslims traveled to the Americas before Columbus, said Turkey was pressing for an Ottoman-style mosque in another city in Cuba.
“We have told them that we could build a similar one to Ortakoy mosque in another city, if you have promised to others for Havana,” Erdogan said in the communist island, the second stop of his Latin America tour.
The Ortakoy mosque, designed by the Balyan family of Armenian architects, was built in 1853 during the rule of the Ottoman sultan Abdulmecid I.
The neo-Baroque edifice is a familiar sight on the shore near the Bosphorus Bridge.
Erdogan said Turkey was not in search of a partner to build the mosque as “our architecture is different from that of Saudi Arabia.”
“I have provided the Cuban officials with all the necessary information…. so far they have not taken a negative approach to it,” he was quoted as saying by the presidential website.
Erdogan, a pious Muslim who has been in power for more than a decade, stirred controversy late last year by declaring that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century.
Erdogan cited as evidence for his claim that “(Christopher) Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast” when he traveled there in the late 15th century, and offered to build a mosque at the site mentioned by the Genoese explorer.
The president has repeatedly been ridiculed by critics for harking back to Turkey’s past to even before the Ottoman Empire was established in the fourteenth century.
In late January, Erdogan brushed off criticism that he was trying to amass sultan-like power, saying he really just wants to be more like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
“In my opinion, even the UK is a semi-presidency. And the dominant element is the Queen,” Erdogan said. In fact, Queen Elizabeth only holds largely ceremonial and symbolic powers.
Erdogan’s comments came after fresh criticism from the opposition that he would act like an “Ottoman sultan” once his presidential role has been boosted.
Erdogan also stirred fierce criticism last month when he said that Ottoman, an old form of Turkish using a version of Arabic script which was replaced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk with the Latin alphabet on foundation of the secular Republic in 1923, should be taught in schools to prevent younger generations losing touch with their cultural heritage.
Erdogan’s supporters, who carried him to victory in Turkey’s first popular presidential election in August with 52 percent of the vote, see him as a champion of the religiously conservative working classes, standing up to a secular elite.
The Turkish president in October unveiled a new presidential palace – built at a reported cost of $350 million to $650 million – on the outskirts of Ankara, a move seen by many as a vivid symbol of what Erdogan touts as his drive towards a “new Turkey.”
The palace is the new home of the Turkish presidency, marking an historic break with the Cankaya presidential palace in downtown Ankara.
The Cankaya has been the seat of the Turkish president ever since the modern republic’s founder Ataturk became president and for many has been a symbol of Turkey’s modern history as a progressive secular state. From Ataturk to Erdogan, it has been the home of 12 Turkish presidents.
For the opposition, the new palace marks another betrayal by Erdogan of Turkey’s secular heritage bequeathed by Ataturk who based the republic on a strict separation of religion and state.
Furthermore, the palace has been built on land where Ataturk created a forest farm that was then donated to the state. Erdogan in March defied a court order halting the construction.
Moreover, Erdogan has also drawn the ire of feminist groups on multiple occasions.
Last month, the Turkish president, who co-founded the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), declared that women were not equal to men because of “biological differences” and launched a bitter attack against feminists in Turkey, claiming they reject the concept of motherhood.
He has previously declared that every woman in Turkey should have at least three children and with proposed to limit abortion rights and access to the morning-after pill.
In August, he drew mass criticism regarding his attitude towards the media and women when in a television debate he said to a woman journalist that she was a “shameless woman” and told her “to know [her] place.”