Riva site: the hatchet has been buried
18 February 2006 – Tuesday 28 February,
Minister Donner and Alderman Stadig will come to De Baarsjes to
symbolically start the construction of the Westermoskee, at the
site of the former Riva garage. This marks the end of almost fifteen
years of conflict, during which the district has seriously considered
deploying anti-riot police.
During the early nineteen nineties, the Turkish Islamic Milli Görüs
organisation became interested in acquiring the Riva site. This
would solve the yearly problem of finding a place to celebrate Ramadan.
Further, the organisation was looking for a place to organise youth
Soon, the organisation found district chairman Freek Salm on its
path. He wanted to use the location for luxury housing, which would
make the neighbourhood more diverse. Further, he warned that a ‘Turkish
bulwark’ might come into existence. As he would put it later:
“if it would go wrong, because of the position of minorities
in this country, then it will become a bulwark of fundamentalists
and we will have to fight extremists there”.
Especially in Germany, Milli Görüs has a reputation for
being a reactionary organisation. In the Netherlands, it presents
itself as an organisation that wants to build bridges and stimulate
integration. Opponents label it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing,
but the secret service never found indications to support that view.
In 1994, Milli Görüs wanted to use the Riva site to celebrate
Ramadan, but the district refused to give permission. The organisation’s
leader Üzeyir Kabaktepe responded as follows in the Nieuws
van de Dag: because of Salm’s refusal, “we are doomed
to celebrate our faith on the street. As a protest, we may as well
do that on the doorstep of the district office”.
Sure enough, three hundred Turkish men gathered at the Mercatorplein,
and went to the district office to perform their prayers there.
Not much later, the organisation occupied a warehouse at the Riva
The district requested police assistance to evict the occupants.
Commissioner Visser saw how things were escalating, and decided
not to go along. “Immediately, I said spontaneously: you can
forget about it, we are not going to do that. This is about a zoning
plan, a thing made of paper”. The Commissioner was not willing
to jeopardise community relations for that.
Meanwhile, the district tried to play apart the Milli Görüs
following and the rest of the residents. After a public inquiry,
a district alderman said that it was a pity “that those people
are afraid to speak their mind”. “Apparently, he finds
it difficult to believe that the Turks’ plans do not incite
massive neighbourhood resistance”, the Parool newspaper commented.
Milli Görüs did manage to mobilise its following. Thousands
of people participated in two protest marches. Further, over sixteen
hundred signatures were collected, and followers attended public
inquiries in huge numbers.
However, mediation also started to get off the ground. Especially,
all kinds of prominent social-democrat party members became involved
in efforts to find a solution. In the end, they managed to cook
up a solution that all involved parties could agree with without
losing face too much.
Ironically, at a later stage neighbourhood residents did start
to protest against the new mosque, which in their eyes was going
to be too large-scale. Even more ironically, protests were led by
Marie-Louise Boel, who had earlier been involved in the conflict
as a district alderman.
The conflict with the neighbourhood residents was solved as well
through negotiations, compromises, and financial compensation. The
last matter of disagreement – the height of the minaret –
was recently decided
by an independent committee. At last, construction can start. This
way, a special solution is created for a special place, as the committee
Source: Flip Lindo (1999), Heilige wijsheid in Amsterdam: Ayasofia,
stadsdeel De Baarsjes en de strijd om het Riva-terrein. Het Spinhuis.