Descendants of Ottoman sultans will join volunteers as part of a project by a central Turkish municipality to clean and maintain buildings constructed during the Ottoman rule in Jerusalem.
The project comes amid repeated calls by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who urged the nation to visit Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque to "preserve" them.
A delegation of 110 people, including a grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, joined the trip, which was scheduled to start when Daily Sabah went to print.
Meram municipality located in the central province of Konya organized the project. Speaking at a press conference ahead of the trip, Mayor Fatma Toru said the delegation would clean ancient Ottoman buildings and repair Ottoman-era mosques in the city. Volunteers will also bring traditional attar produced in country's rose capital, Isparta, to be used during the cleaning, "a sacred task" according to Toru.
Turkey is among the vocal critics of what it calls the "occupation" of east Jerusalem and the "violations" of Al-Aqsa Mosque, a sacred Islamic site, by Israeli forces. Erdoğan previously expressed Turkey's support for the Palestinian fight against the Israeli occupation and called on Turks to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque often to protect the Muslim identity of the holy site. "As a Muslim community, we need to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque often, each day that Jerusalem has it under occupation is an insult to us," he said in a speech at a forum on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque held recently in Turkey.
The municipality established a "Jerusalem Academy" where volunteers took classes on the city and its Ottoman legacy. "We had 400 applicants and picked 20 from among them," Toru says.
The delegation will visit some 60 Ottoman-era buildings in Jerusalem during their visit.
"Jerusalem is honored in Islam and a sacred area. We hope this project will have an impact, and more such projects will be held in Turkey," the mayor said.
The city was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517. The Ottoman Empire redeveloped Jerusalem and its environs and ruled it until 1917.