Ahmet Güneştekin, a worldwide renowned artist, was so excited when he was asked to exhibit one of his latest sculptures in front of a popular shopping center called Atakoy A Plus in Istanbul. But his excitement soon turned to disappointment when his artwork was removed by municipal officials because the name of the sculpture, “Kostantiniyye,” reminded a group of protestors of the Byzantium Empire.
Güneştekin himself has subsequently been targeted for abuse both on social media and in the streets.
On December 19, Güneştekin tweeted that his exhibitions, “Kostantiniyye” and “Million Stone,” which now belong to Delta Group and were exhibited in Venice last year, would be displayed in front of the shopping center for public visits on Thursday, December 22.
“Hope this would be a good example for the other big groups too, so more institutions’ front yards and entrances could be occupied by art works,” Güneştekin posted. But within hours of the sculptures going up, a protest formed.
“The exhibition was first protested by a big crowd just five hours after the opening and then the sculpture was covered with a big black plastic wrap after midnight by the Bakırkoy municipality’s officials. The officials then decided to remove the exhibition since they were not able to protect it from the protesters,” Güneştekin posted on his Instagram account.
The protest was apparently triggered by the head of the TV channel Kanal A, Alper Tan. He tweeted, “What does that mean writing KOSTANTINIYYE with big letters in Istanbul when the sensitivity of people is very high nowadays?”
Tan, who has over 90 thousand followers on Twitter, complained “why the sculpture carried the ancient name of Istanbul “Kostantiniyye” and is exhibited in the middle of the city of Istanbul.”
Over one thousand of his followers reacted to his tweet. Some followers called the artist a “traitor,” some followers said, “they did that intentionally, so they should pay for it.” One follower called on legal institutions to imprison Güneştekin.
Some of Tan’s followers opposed the backlash, reminding people that Kostantiniyye, modified from the ancient name of Istanbul “Constantinople,” was the official name of Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire.
After going viral on social media, over one thousand phone calls were directed to the shopping center displaying the artwork. Many people started to gather on the street to protest the exhibition, as well as the shopping center.
The Turkish internet channel Ahsen TV, under an extremist Islamist media called Akit that frequently targets secular and minority groups, started broadcasting in front of the shopping center. According to a video on their social media accounts, Ahsen TV’s reporter Bulent Yapraklıoğlu interviewed some protestors and supported those who wanted the sculpture to be removed immediately.
Local security forces, the district attorney, and municipal officials went to the shopping center to assure the protesters that the sculpture would soon be removed. The sculpture was removed on Saturday.
“After the anger and threats, the Bakırköy municipality decided to hide the Kostantiniyye sculpture with a black plastic wrap before they started the removal process,” Güneştekin posted on Instagram.
Güneştekin is a renowned Kurdish artist from Batman, a Kurdish city located in the southeast of Turkey. Represented by the Marlborough Gallery since 2013, he has exhibited his works in New York, Venice, Amsterdam, Monaco and various other cities in Europe in recent years.
Güneştekin, whose art mostly focuses on mythologies based in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Greece, will open his new international exhibition in New York, on January 11. This exhibit focuses on the legend of Dhul-Qarnayn, which is also mentioned in the Quran.
Joining the Rudaw’s Hûnerî program in a live interview on Sunday, Güneştekin said that he would never step back on what believes to be true. “Some extremist people protested against me and the sculpture, saying that ‘here is Istanbul, not Byzantium’ and they wanted to lynch me and my art,” he said. “Istanbul was called Kostantiniyye from 1453 to 1930. Clearly, those who protested do not know the history.”
He reiterated this on his Instagram account. “The historic name of Istanbul ‘Kostantiniyye’ was altered by the Ottomans from the original name Constantinapolis, which was phrased by Prophet Mohammed, and was used as an official name of Istanbul by the Ottoman Sultans, and the founder of Turkey Ataturk even until a decade after the Republic of Turkey was built,” Güneştekin said.
“It is very tragicomic when people are blaming you for not respecting the history, while they do not have any idea how rich our history has been.”