Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on a visit to a Muslim center in Maryland, claimed that President Barack Obama had agreed to the construction of a Turkish-funded mosque in the state, and may even attend the opening himself. The White House has denied that any such opening is on the President’s schedule.
Çavuşoğlu visited the Turkish-American Culture and Civilization Center on Sunday as part of a three-day trip to the United States. Hurriyet reports that Turkish state media outlets, who were the only outlets allowed to attend and report on the event, quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying that President Obama had approved a larger Turkish mosque at the center, which already has a small prayer center. Çavuşoğlu claimed President Obama had “accepted in principle” the plans: “During a phone call, President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan asked President [Barack] Obama to accompany him in opening the center together and President Obama accepted his offer in principle.”
White House National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh denied that the President had made such an agreement: “We don’t have any conversations to read out for you. And no travel or Presidential engagements to announce.”
Zaman, another Turkish outlet, notes that Çavuşoğlu also claimed that he would meet with National Security Advisor Susan Rice during his visit to the United States, another claim the White House denied with the simple statement, “no meetings to announce.”
Zaman recalls at least one other instance in which Erdoğan’s government claimed close ties to the White House and was immediately rebuffed. “Last year, Erdoğan attributed a sentence to Obama that prompted a White House denial,” the newspaper reports, though not specifying the incident. Erdoğan did claim in March of this year that he was consulted on the creation of the Affordable Care Act, a claim for which no evidence has surfaced.
The Turkish government has made extensive attempts to promote Islam both within its borders and internationally, recently announcing its plans to convert the Hagia Sophia, once the basilica of Constantinople, into a mosque (it is currently technically a museum). A senior government official claimed the government may expedite the process in response to Pope Francis’s use of the term “Armenian genocide” last week.
Churches are a rare sight in Turkey, and the nation’s Christian population has dwindled to 0.2% today from 20% a century ago. The Hagia Sophia hosted its first Quran recitation this week.
Internationally, the Turkish government has been most active in pursuing the construction of a mosque on the island of Cuba. Their request has been denied multiple times, as the Cuban Marxist government does not officially allow for the practice of religion, despite being notably more lenient with the practice of santería. Erdoğan claimed in February that he had had multiple conversations with Raul Castro on the matter, and that he had “presented all the information, project work and visuals regarding the Ortakoy mosque.”
In attempts to convince the Cuban government of the need for a mosque on their island, despite the minuscule number of estimated Muslims in Cuba, Erdoğan claimed in November that Christopher Columbus had seen a mosque in Cuba upon his arrival, confirming that Muslims had discovered America before the Spanish empire. Columbus had, in his diary, compared a hill of the island’s Sierra Maestra to “a lovely mosque,” though historians agreed this was a simile and not a report of an existing mosque on the island. Erdoğan attributed denials of his claim from Turkish scholars as a result of “lack of self-confidence.”