By Radu Cupcea*
Around 19th of May this year, the Romanian media market had quickly picked up and distributed a photo gallery from Diyanet foundation’s website, which illustrates the project of a future mosque in Bucharest. Titled „This is how the mosque from Bucharest will look. The construction starts this year”, the article was shared on Ziare.com, EvenimentulZilei, Hotnews.ro, Digi24.ro websites and was picked up by the main regional newspapers and portals.
After a short check, any websurffer can observe that the news is almost identical on all the websites. This fact denotes that the text has been translated from Turkish to Romanian by a single media agency. Everything has started and released from a single point. But what is the purpose?
We are going to draw some conclusions after a brief process of data collection about this article.
The LARICS team noticed that something was not right on Diyanet foundation’s official site with the project’s images of a future mosque in Bucharest which were posted last winter, more exactly on the 31st of January 2017. Meanwhile in our country, this news was launched in the second half of May. We may agree that Romanian journalists had discovered later the foundation‘s post, but the title does not seem innocent at all since it indicates that this year the mosque will be built, and the Great Mufti’s  Office of Muslim Community of Romania knew nothing about this project with „ a capacity of 1.500 people”.
The history of issue
Let’s analyze the issue a bit. The idea of building a mosque in Bucharest is older. The first talks with the Turkish side were held in 1990s by former President Ion Iliescu. In that period, the representatives of the Turkish state, raised the issue of a Muslim cemetery and the construction of a mosque in Bucharest. Following this, Romania would receive the same in Turkey. Since 2002, Romanians in Turkey have in possession an area by 3.000 square meters, where they built a cemetery.
The Romanian Government offered in turn, only in 2015, 4.000 square meters of land in Domnești village, 18 kilometers far from the capital, for the construction of a Muslim cemetery. According to Digi24 journalists, this land was promised in 2008, by Mayor of Bucharest Adriean Videanu, to the then instated Turkish President, Abdullah Gul. Also, to this promise it was added an appropriate land for a mosque construction in Bucharest. Being a sensitive issue, this problem has been constantly postponed. After the visit of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Romania, once more, Romanian Government at this time leaded by Victor Ponta, decided to give an area of 11.000 square meters to the Muslims from Romania, located on the Expoziției Boulevard right next to Romexpo, for the construction of the new mosque. Shortly after this event, the Romanian Mufti Murat Iusuf, in a press declaration, praised that in Romania will be built the biggest mosque in Europe. Actually, the representative of Muslim cult committed a serious communication error, while being in a permanent political clash, the former President Traian Băsescu took advantage of the situation and released the information that the mosque will be followed by a Muslim university which will gather Muslim students in Romania. The discussion has been replayed in the national press and quickly turned into a veritable scandal. Thus, the construction has never started, and the dispute was put out.
Is somebody trying to rekindle the protests about the mosque?
This it seems to be the secondary purpose of those who translated the Turkive Diyanet Foundation post and released it in Romania, even though the photos were published last winter. Also the main purpose of those who pushed the news in the public sphere would be to undermine the Romanian Orthodox Church in front of its own believers, and then to fuel speculations about any concessions, generating a new public scandal. The so-called opinion articles have already appeared on several websites focused on mysteries, conspiracy theories and nationalism. In one of them, the author writes that „Romanian Orthodox Church – which supposedly serves the spiritual life of Romanians, also agrees with the project, under the condition to receive a bone to pick in Istanbul- some lodging places for pilgrims”.
Captured: Cunoaste lumea.ro
Despite all these unorthodox hints focused on Romanian Orthodoxy, we tend to believe that this is not the real purpose. The view that someone from the East has the interest in having minority disputes in Romania, it’s not justified in this case. Rather than that, it is an extension of the dispute between the actual leadership in Turkey and the followers of Fethullah Gulen’s movement on the Romanian territory. The last, are represented by „Lumina-Instituții de Învățământ” organization.
The truth is that Murat Iusuf, the Mufti of Great Mufti’s Office of Muslim Community of Romania, found out about the images of the future mosque in Bucharest from press, posted on the Turkish Government’s Religious Authority website. He was not asked about the future construction supported by the authorities from Ankara. The incident bothered the leader of Muslims of Romania and he gets involved by refuting the material about the future mosque. But the impact was too low compared to the rapidity of dissemination of the news published on the 19th of May.
Shortly before this interesting and controversial news appeared, Zaman România webpage accused the Diyanet’s cult counsellor from Romania, Osman Kılıç, of spying Erdogan’s opponents. The online publication presents a supposed collection of information about the activity of the schools from the Gulen network accredited by Romanian Education Ministry, which the counsellor would have qualified as „a part of the terrorist group”. More details here.
Another incident illustrating the misunderstandings between the Romanian Turkish community happened on the 11st of May, when the Turkish businessman, Ömer Karahasanoğlu asked his friends to leave the house of worship after the imam of the mosque from the capital did not answer the requests that the prayers be read by the imam seconded by Turkish Department of Cults and Religions. All this events demonstrate that the Turks from Romania continue the dispute launched on the 15th of July 2016 in Ankara.
What if it’s not only this?
Turkey’s Embassy in Bucharest did not react in any way to the news released on 19th of May, as neither the Mufti did not answer at our request to explain the situation. A silence that can be explained by a call to caution, but which can raise multiple questions.
In conclusion, how big the dispute between the Turkish President’s supporters and the Fethullah Gulen’s followers in Romania might be, it is hard to believe that the Turkish Officials could go so far to affect the relations with Bucharest in order to penalize a small community hostile to the leadership from Ankara. And if we exclude the Turks, then the issue receives another meaning.
Is certain that, based on the misunderstandings that exist within the Turkish community in the country, this was an attempt to launch a public scandal designed to cool the relations between Romania and Turkey. Now, everything is all about a failed attempt, because the officials did not react. We considered appropriate to elucidate this attempt to prevent new attempts in the following period.
- Radu Cupcea is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Bucharest and Researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations “Ion I.C. Brătianu” of The Romanian Academy.
 Mufti – Is the representative institution of Islamic Cult and Culture. Has the same rank as the similar institutions of other cults recognized by Romanian state, and represents the interest of entire Muslim community from Romania.