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‘Only going to get worse’: After Hagia Sophia ruling, many fear what’s next from Erdoğan – NBC News

ISTANBUL — The conversion of Istanbul’s symbolic, shape-shifting Hagia Sophia edifice back into a mosque is being described as a victory for the conservative religious agenda of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Hagia Sophia was once a cathedral, and then it was a mosque. And then, in 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk— the founder of modern Turkey, who aspired to build a secular state — declared it a museum.

After a Turkish court annulled Atatürk’s decision one week ago, Erdoğan swiftly declared the Hagia Sophia to be — once again — a mosque.

Analysts said the decision showed how desperate the president is to maintain his popularity among his religious and nationalist conservative base, which has kept him in power for years — but which is now seen to be waning.

Erdoğan was once celebrated for overseeing Turkey’s rapid development and booming economy. But praise has long since given way to deep concern over the country’s shaky finances and imperfect democracy, intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the fears led to his greatest political defeat since he came to power, as his Justice and Development Party lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities in municipal elections.

Erdoğan now governs with the stinging public rejection of having had the voters choose the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, to lead both the capital, Ankara, where he lives, and Istanbul, his hometown, where he was once mayor.

The government, which is disinclined to brook criticism, has launched investigations into opposition figures, removed elected mayors and imprisoned journalists during the coronavirus pandemic while passing a bill to release tens of thousands of inmates, lest they contract COVID-19 because of crowding.

“Turkey wanted to be a member of the democratic world, but that story has ended,” said Garo Paylan, 48, a Christian Armenian who is one of the founders of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Erdoğan “can’t give bread to the people, and he’s giving more radicalism to the Muslim majority,” Paylan said over the phone.

While the Hagia Sophia decision was a major symbolic win for the country’s Islamists, Paylan argued that it shut the door to the future for minorities in the country and took away a symbol of respect for the country’s diversity. He has stopped telling his fellow Armenians to stay in the country.

Last year, the U.S. Senate declared that the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s was genocide, a label Turkey strongly rejects.

In any event, minority rights were not well supported after the Ottoman Empire ended, either.

With the founding of modern Turkey, Atatürk established a nationalist approach to Turkish identity that often ran counter to the struggles for greater minority rights.

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Kurds, who are almost 20 percent of the population, have found themselves at odds with both secular and Islamist nationalists, many of whom fear the country could slide into a civil war if there were to be a push for self-governance.

The calculus has driven many of Erdoğan’s nationalist policies, but, analysts say, so have the threats to his power from the Peoples’ Democratic Party.

In 2015, the party entered the Grand National Assembly, Turkey’s parliament, for the first time, stopping Erdoğan’s party from getting a majority. That led him to partner with the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, further cementing his need to push a conservative agenda.

Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul, was a Byzantine cathedral before it was converted into a mosque.Murad Sezer / Reuters

Erdoğan’s supporters counter that he has increased language rights and living standards for Kurds, many of whom vote for his party.

Paylan said he will likely go to prison when he is no longer a member of parliament with immunity.

Other Peoples’ Democratic Party members are already there, accused of being connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Turkish militant group designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

Paylan rejected the allegation. However, it has led the government to remove his party’s members from mayoral posts they won in last year’s municipal elections.

Elmira Bayrasli, a Turkish American who is director of Bard College’s globalization and international affairs program, said the Hagia Sophia decision represented Erdoğan’s going on “the offense” in the face of increasing challenges, some of them from new splinter parties from his Justice and Development Party.

“My guess is it’s only going to get worse,” Bayrasli said. “He’s desperate to hold onto power.”

Feminist activists blame the government’s conservatism for what they say is a steady rise in gender-based violence.

The deputy chairman of the Justice and Development Party suggested this month that Turkey might exit the Istanbul Convention, a treaty to protect women from violence.

In a telephone interview, Neslihan Duran, 24, a student at Gaza University in Ankara, said that “with such policies, women are designated as an inferior gender.”

Duran helped set up a Twitter campaign to call for justice for fellow university student Şule Çet, who was raped and killed in 2018. Duran argued that the government’s promotion of conservative religious values led to Çet’s being criticized during the trial for not being a virgin.

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For Yusuf Erim, 40, a Muslim Turk, Erdoğan’s conservatism is a reminder to the country’s Muslims that they are part of a larger Islamic community.

Erim, an editor-at-large for the Turkish state broadcaster, TRT, said turning the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque was another way to do that. He said he believed Muslims around the world would flock to pray at the historic building.

“Let’s call it an Islamic bucket list,” he said over the phone.

The almost 1,500-year-old monument is significant both for Christians, because it was built as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire, and Muslims, because it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453.

The Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul, in June.Murad Sezer / Reuters

Erim said that under Erdoğan, Turkey has been transformed into a regional power because of its major infrastructure projects and military campaigns.

“How can you not be proud?” he asked. “I can say, ‘Wow, my country has come a long way.'”

Others were less excited about the Hagia Sophia’s being converted into a mosque. The U.S. State Department said it was “disappointed.”

Asked for comment, the Turkish government pointed to Erdoğan’s speech last week in which he said the building would be open to “locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Paylan, the member of parliament with the Peoples’ Democratic Party, feared that the decision would lead to a backlash against Muslims while Christians in Turkey have a sacred symbol of their history taken away.

“This is going to make the tension bigger between the Muslims and the Christians,” he said.

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going Tesla

Tesla’s next factory is going to be in Austin, Texas and it’s going to happen quickly – Electrek

A source familiar with the matter told Electrek that Tesla has chosen Austin, Texas for its next factory and it’s going to happen quickly.

The race to secure Tesla’s next factory is apparently over.

According to a reliable source familiar with the matter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is set on bringing the next Tesla Gigafactory, or now Terafactory, to Austin, Texas, or at least close to the city.

The people familiar with the project said that Musk has tasked the engineering team working at Gigafactory Nevada to start the process for the new factory, which is expected to make the Tesla Cybertruck electric pickup truck and the Model Y.

Tesla’s CEO also reportedly wants to move extremely fast.

We are told that the decision for the site is not set in stone since Tesla was apparently given a few options in the greater Austin area, but Musk is said to want to start construction extremely soon and aims to have Model Y vehicles coming out of the plant by the end of the year.

It would be an even more aggressive timeline than Gigafactory Shanghai.

However, we are told that Tesla would aim to only have a general assembly line ready on that timeline and it would keep building the factory around the first phase in order to increase production capacity of different parts next year.

By late next year, the new Texas factory would be producing Tesla’s new Cybertruck electric pickup.

Tesla already has some connections to Austin, Texas.

When Tesla started building a team of chip engineers for its Autopilot hardware 3.0, it hired several engineers from AMD’s corporate offices in Austin and Tesla decided to open an office there for its Autopilot hardware engineers.

Recently, Musk has been talking about moving Tesla’s California operations to Nevada and/or Texas due to the automaker’s difficulties working with the local government to reopen the Fremont factory, where it currently produces most of its vehicles.

This project is not directly related to that announcement.

We are talking here about Tesla’s previously announced plans to build a ‘Cybertruck Gigafactory’ in “central US”.

Update: After we published this report, three different publications happened to “coincidently” report, each based on a single anonymous source, that Tesla was in talks with Austin and Tulsa last week:

This is so funny. All 3 publications get the same anon source saying the same vague thing just an hour after my report. @tesla this is sloppy work to try to muddy my report. https://t.co/Ilq7Wj1pdq

— Fred Lambert (@FredericLambert) May 15, 2020

Electrek’s Take

I think most people won’t be surprised by the news. Elon seems to have been leaning toward Texas for a while now.

But the timeline was really surprising to me.

This source has been really reliable in the past and they seem adamant that Tesla is pushing to have cars coming out of the factory by December, which just sounds crazy.

Although we are talking about just general assembly here so it’s not like Gigafactory Shanghai, which was built on a quick timeline too, though not as aggressive as this.

Tesla had Gigafactory Shanghai producing cars within a year after starting construction, but it was also producing the body of the vehicles and for now, it sounds like the bodies of the Model Y vehicles coming out of the new Texas factory would be produced in Fremont.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s impossible, but like it’s often the case with Tesla, the timeline is extremely aggressive.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

We will try to keep you updated on Tesla’s plans for the new factory. If you know anything about it, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Fred@electrek.co, via Wickr: Fredev, or through my social media: Twitter and Instagram.

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