Ahmet Güneştekin, “Kostantiniyye,” 2016.

Istanbul Removes Public Sculpture After Protests over Ottoman-Era Name

Hours after Kurdish artist Ahmet Güneştekin’s public sculpture consisting of large block letters spelling the word “Kostantiniyye”—the Ottoman-era name for the city—was installed in front of a popular shopping mall in Istanbul, people began protesting the work, resulting in the authorities’ decision to cover the piece with black plastic before removing it.

According to the Kurdish media network Rudaw, the sculpture, which was erected on Thursday, December 22, angered people because “Kostantiniyye” reminded them of the Byzantine Empire. More than one thousand people called the shopping mall to complain.

The protests over the work were partially incited by Alper Tan, the head of the TV channel Kanal A. He tweeted: “What does that mean writing KOSTANTINIYYE with big letters in Istanbul when the sensitivity of people is very high nowadays?” The appearance of Akit TV, an extremist TV channel, at the shopping center also caused outrage.

Critics of the piece called the artist a traitor and urged authorities to arrest him. Some people defended the work, claiming that it reflects the country’s history. As a result, Güneştekin has been the target of verbal abuse both in person and on social media.

Güneştekin was disappointed by the public outcry. He said, “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.” He added, “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.”

Güneştekin frequently explores Anatolian, Mesopotamian, and Greek mythology and history in his works. He has exhibited in New York, Venice, Amsterdam, and Monaco, among other cities. His next exhibition focusing on the legend of Dhul-Qarnayn will open in New York’s Marlborough Gallery on January 11.