1. Built environment
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May 27, 2015updated 20 Jul 2021 2:37pm

A Turkish city installed a statue of an Ottoman prince taking a selfie. Someone broke its smartphone

By Zia Weise

In the Turkish city of Amasya, putting up a statue of a prince shouldn’t be a controversial move. The sons of Ottoman rulers were sent there to gain education and experience; several would-be sultans trained for future rule by acting as governors of the town, which became known as the city of princes.

But a recently unveiled statue of an Ottoman prince proved so unpopular that it had to be put under police protection. The steel prince, clad in a traditional turban and robe, sparked debate by engaging in a decidedly modern pastime: he was snapping a selfie.

The Instagram-loving price in question. Image: @metesohtaoglu on Twitter.

Images of the statue quickly spread across social media, attracting curious visitors and locals, as well as some angry townsfolk. Just one day after the unveiling, the statue was vandalised: someone had broken the prince’s smartphone. When the tip of his sword was also broken off, the city assigned a police guard to the disarmed statue.

Image: @metesohtaoglu on Twitter.

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Amasya’s prince joins a long list of bizarre statues in Turkey: there’s the giant statue of a hand holding a forkful of Turkish meatballs in Inegol, the NASA astronaut on the seafront of Marmaris, and in April, on a busy roundabout in the capital Ankara, a giant robot statue appeared. (Following a flood of complaints, Ankara’s mayor had it replaced with a three-metre-high dinosaur.)

But the prince has become part of a wider debate about balancing history, culture and politics as Turkey rediscovers its love for all things Ottoman.

One Amasya resident told the Turkish newspaper Zaman that he found the selfie statue disrespectful to his ancestors, adding: “Whoever broke that part of the statue should have just removed it completely.”

While an opposition politician grumbled about a waste of public funds, Amasya’s mayor Cafer Ozdemir was quick to defend the statue.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with adapting for modern times what has become the symbol of Amasya, or for visitors to our city taking pictures with it. There is nothing there that offends or belittles our princes,” he said.

Amasya’s mayor isn’t the only one eager to bring the country’s illustrious past into the present. In the run-up to next month’s general elections, a number of would-be candidates for the ruling AK Party launched an Ottoman-themed campaign in February, donning turbans and fake moustaches, much to the delight of Turkish social media users.

Just a few weeks earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan surprised his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas with what one Twitter user dubbed an “Ottoman circus”: a ceremony featuring actors clad in historical armour brandishing spears and swords. Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev was greeted with a similar reception.

Tulay Babuscu, an AKP politician, praised the ceremony: “The 90-year-long commercial break of a 600-year-old empire is now over,” she said.

While some love to mock the government’s resurgent Ottomania, others worry about the shift it represents. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, he set out to enforce secularism. His reforms included banning traditional headdresses such as the fez or turban, and replacing the Arabic alphabet with Latin script. In December, Erdogan vowed to introduce compulsory lessons in Ottoman Turkish for high school students, drawing accusations that he was trying to undermine Ataturk’s secular reforms.

But it’s not just the government that’s been swept by Ottoman nostalgia. Films and television shows set in the period have become wildly popular, with the soap opera “Magnificent Century”, based on the life of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, enthralling millions of viewers both in Turkey and around the world.

Erdogan, however, is not a fan: The series, he said, was historically inaccurate and “an effort to show our history in a negative light to the younger generations”. He has yet to comment on Amasya’s selfie-taking prince. 

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