“Brave New Turkey” is a conceptual approach to documenting the newly built mosques that are popping up across the urban landscape. Known as the “Neo-Ottoman style,” these structures speak to a fresh turn in this country’s long history.

Since 2015, I have regularly travelled to Turkey and visited the sprawling suburban districts of both the country’s capital, Ankara, and its biggest city, Istanbul. These rapidly built, endless suburban high-rise developments are manifestations of Turkey’s economic boom.

Along with massive housing construction has come a second massive construction project: mosques. My work reflects this phenomenon as a symbol of change and power that reaches beyond national borders.

Yasamkent Nur Mosque, Yasamkent, Ankara, 2017, completed in 2015 © Norman Behrendt

Returning Turkey to the glories and origins of its Ottoman past and ending Atatürk’s secular constitution has been one of the primary goals of President Recep Erdoğan throughout his long rule of Turkey. Erdoğan has been in power since 2003—first as prime minister, and now as President with growing executive powers. Thanks to the country’s recent economic boom, the AKP (Erdoğan’s party) has improved healthcare, urban infrastructure and prosperity—but on the other hand, it has also made control of religious affairs a priority.

The Diyanet (Directorate for Religious Affairs) fulfills this role and helps to legitimize the religious backswing of Turkey. In less than a decade, its budget has quadrupled to over $2 billion per year, and it employs over 120,000 people, making it one of Turkey’s largest institutions—bigger than the Ministry of the Interior. Data suggests that Turkey has constructed more than 25,000 mosques since 1987, a sharp increase over previous years.

Temporary place for prayer inside of Yeşilova Hz. Osman Mosque, in construction, Etimesgut, Ankara, 2017 © Norman Behrendt

In recent years, the Diyanet has become a political instrument that the government uses to reshape Turkey and intensify its control over the people. The Diyanet is the main investor for thousands of newly built mosques in Turkey and abroad. Most of them are built in the Neo-Ottoman style with distinctive domes and minarets.

The newly constructed mosques attest to the evident political influence on urban planning, but more importantly on Turkish society. “Brave New Turkey” is less about architecture in a classical sense; rather, it focuses on how architecture reflects power and manifests ideologies. It reflects a coalescing compound of religious and cultural identity against the backdrop of a constant exclusion of minorities, a reckless fight against those whose convictions are different and, below it all, an unresolved question: what is Turkish identity?

—Norman Behrendt

Editor’s Note: “Brave New Turkey” is part of the group exhibition “Le monde tel qu’il va!” at J1 in Marseille and can be seen until January 7, 2018. The accompanying photobook, “Greetings from Turkey,“ can be ordered at Hartmann Projects or at the photographer’s website.

On January 20th, 2018 Norman Behrendt will be the guest of Fototreff Berlin in a conversation with Beatrice Minda and Anton Roland Laub. Save the date!