The story of the “Turkish American Cultural and Civilization Center,” which will be opened by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan near Washington tomorrow, is noteworthy.
A land they tried to sell
Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs (DIB) purchases a 60,000-square-meter land in Maryland, US in 1993. The land is 30 minutes from Washington, DC. In 2007, administrators from the DIB come to check the state of the land. In the report given to the presidency, it is stated that the land is situated within the woods, some parts of it are wetlands and that it is far from the capital. DIB administrators were advised that “If this land is sold, 10 houses can be bought in the US, and each one of them can be turned into a masjid.”
On a visit to the US for a meeting in 2008, then DIB Vice President Professor Mehmet Görmez was tasked to sell this land. He is also asked to make plans to purchase 10 houses to turn them into masjids with the income made from selling this land.
President Erdoğan steps in
Görmez arrives at the land. He is highly impressed by the beauty and size of the land and its proximity to Washington. He thinks that selling it would be a mistake and makes a phone call from Washington to DIB President Ali Bardakoğlu. He tells him about the situation and returns to Turkey to review the decision.
He says that a large-scale mosque, something like a cultural center can be built on this land, and if this idea is shared with then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he too will be open to the idea. They both agree.
Görmez speaks to the prime minister, who is in Vienna for the Turkey-Austria match in 2008. The prime minister says he knows of the land and asks him what they want to do. He listens to the matter and immediately calls Erdoğan Bayraktar, the president of the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI). He asks him to immediately go to the US with Görmez to prepare a project suitable for this land. A week later, Görmez, Bayraktar and an architect go to the US and survey the land.
Efforts of an invisible hand to interfere
A group of Turks living in Turkey ask to have a private meeting with Bayraktar during the land survey. Toward the end of the meeting Görmez is also invited the meeting. Bayraktar says that the land is in the woods, it is not a residential area, and that it would probably better to sell it. He also says that if this land is sold, they can purchase 10 houses in the US, and turning these houses into masjids would have more effective results. Just like DIB officials. He also says that the land has suitors. However, no decision is made there and the team returns to Turkey.
Nonetheless, the architect who surveyed the land prepares a project and all together they go to President Erdoğan. The project consists of a mosque, Quran course and a lodging. The president is not pleased with the project and criticizes it. The TOKI president repeats his opinion that the land is not suitable and that it should be sold. The prime minister and Görmez object to this idea.
Prime Minister Erdoğan excludes TOKI and tasks architect Hilmi Şenalp. Görmez and Şenalp go to the US again. During their flight there they discuss the kind of center they will build. Once they see the land, their opinions become firm. When they return, architect Şenalp prepares a huge project for the land. Other than a mosque, the project contains Turkish houses, a culture center, research center, Turkish hamam, and a library. They present the project to the prime minister together with Görmez. The prime minister is impressed with the project and wants to start construction right away.
Important Gülenist figure visits Görmez
Great difficulties are faced in obtaining permission for the project from US authorities. The budget also becomes a problem. In the meantime, Mustafa Özcan, a leading figure in the Gülen Movement, visits Görmez. He says that they bought a big space near the DIB's land in Washington, that they are going to build a beautiful mosque there, that they found the budget, and hence there is no need for the DIB to build a mosque and center. But Görmez rejects the proposal and operations continue.
The grounbreaking of this large-scale project was performed by President Erdoğan in 2013.
Gülenists disturbed by project that would change balances in the US
It was the members of the Gülen Movement that told the DIB to sell this land and buy 10 houses with the money and to turn them into masjids. The group that met with Bayraktar and convinced him was also from the movement. Those who wanted to buy the land were also the same people. Gülenists tried everything to prevent this center from being built, but failed. When they failed to stop the center from being built, they label it as “Masjid al-Dirar” (the mosque of hypocrites). The Gülen Movement launches propaganda campaigns on social media against DIB President Görmez, architect Şenalp and Hüseyin Kutlu, the mosque's calligrapher…
This center is more than just a mosque. If Turkey fills it up with human resources that are strong in terms of intellect, science, religion and communication, it will have very impressive results. This center will eliminate the Gülen Movement's authority, way of representing religion, and power to influence the public in the US. This center can also serve as a center to tell the world public about the true Islam against organizations such as Daesh and al-Qaeda. Gülenists tried to prevent it from being built because they realized this in advance.
However, this monument, which is the biggest Turkey has built abroad, is also the American continent's largest Islamic Center. And it will be opened by President Erdoğan and DIB President Görmez on April 2, 2016.
This is Turkey's vision and another story of betrayal by the Gülen Movement.