Will the Islamic communities associated with Erdoğan and AKP save themselves from paying the toll of June 23?

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A significant number of Islamic communities in Turkey have been liable to Erdoğan for a long time. It is uncertain what kind of a stance these communities -who used to win alongside Erdoğan until today- will take in the course of his loss.

Click here for the report mentioned in the broadcast (in Turkish)

Broadcast date: 3 July 2019

Translation: Melissa Clissold / Subtitles: Egemen Gök

Hello, good day. A little while back, a report was leaked. In fact, it was prepared in 2016. Yet, it has only just entered circulation on social media and digital environments about a month ago. Its title is “Religion institutions, traditional religious-cultural formations and new religious movements in Turkey.” The Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) doesn’t accept this. But it looks like it was prepared by a certain unit within the DİB; the opening sentences state this. In this paper, everything from people in religious organisations to deeply rooted, historical communities are discussed one by one.

There’s almost nothing missing from the report. And opinions have also been shared regarding these organisations and movements. Firstly, information has been presented, then an evaluation has been carried out; mostly the evaluations are with regards to the communities’ relationships with the government. And with some of these, it appears that certain warnings are being made to the government – to the DİB management – and thus the government. I have thought a lot about making a broadcast regarding this subject. But before March 31 and after June 23, I have not had the chance to. The reason I’m doing it now is because of the comment that the Chief of Religious Affairs Ali Erbaş made with regards to the latest Pride Parade. The explanation he gave about homosexuality and LGBTI, made me think about doing this broadcast again. Because, from wherever you look at it, this is a nonsensical explanation, an unnecessary explanation.

The DİB made an explanation as if it was not an institution that embraced everyone, as if there weren’t both religious and homosexual people in this country, he accused them all. Never mind. But something happened today. After one year on from the Çorlu train accident, the hearing finally took place. But it was very short. The panel of judges withdrew. And we saw the pressure that the police put on those who had lost their relatives before and after the trial. Previously, another demonstration they put on in Ankara, was suppressed very harshly. The DİB isn’t voicing its opinion regarding these sorts of incidents.  

There is a Directorate of Religious Affairs that does not voice its opinion when it comes to matters that hurt human conscience, ideas of justice and equity; yet, it has no problem voicing its ‘othering views’ when it comes to those who do not live according to their standards.  And the same DİB is not only an institution of the government, but it is also carrying out certain activities within political parties. Some friends showed me a minute ago. Something called ‘Enderun Teravihi’ took place – it was invented, rather. The DİB organised it before the June 23 elections.

President Erdoğan took part. Of course, it was calculated that this might influence the June 23 elections. Yet when we look at the results after the June 23 elections, we see that the vote difference rose from 13 thousand to more than 800 thousand. And this shows us how functional or not functional the DİB is.  The DİB of course didn’t state that this was an election campaign. But we all understood that this was the case. Those who took part, and those who didn’t interiorize this; we have all clearly seen its relationship to June 23. Also, certain religious communities took on active and positive roles in the elections.

Those who supported the ones in power, did this out in the open. Meaning, those who supported Binali Yıldırım, did this openly. Certain fatwas were given. As you know, there’s Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca’s fatwa. Binali Yıldırım visited the İsmailağa Community, he took photos there etc. We saw a lot of communities that openly stated their support for Binali Yıldırım. Even if it wasn’t the communities themselves…There were loads of communities themselves that stated this too. Now since the AKP has been defeated, they are also being perceived as defeated. But also, there are certain comments and positions taken by foundations, associations related to the communities. All this has shown us once again how problematic the relationship between religious communities and the government is.

Before this, there are very interesting findings regarding this topic in the report I mentioned earlier. Most of the communities in Turkey would not want to have problems with the government. They always try to stay loyal to the government – even if there are people in power that they dislike. Yet, at the same time, most of the communities are always related to politics in one way or another; their relationship with politics is a give-and-take relationship. Through supporting certain candidates, they expect certain privileges etc. in return.

However, we have never really witnessed a religious community standing beside political parties – I can’t say never, it has hardly been seen. One or two communities are the exception. The Süleymancılar for example are an exception. Because Kemal Kaçar, the leader of the Süleymancılar, is already a minister. Following on, a huge part of the Nurcus have been openly supported centre-right parties – such as the Democrat Party (DP), Justice Party (AP), Right Way Party (DYP) – for a long time.

But a lot of the communities cannot do this out in the open. In fact, a lot of them claim that they support – mostly right parties of course – opposing parties separately. But, the sheikh of course – and sheiks are usually the topic of discussion in cults – there are people or parties that they mention. But not all of them can do this out in the open. This has changed hugely in Turkey, it’s become completely upside down.

And especially after the battle between the Fethullahists and Erdoğan, Erdoğan openly made the communities subject to him. Those who did not show their loyalty were limited. Some groups, for example Alparsal Kuytul, were punished. He’s still in prison, as you know, with his friends, the Furkan Foundation. This is a recent Islamic group that doesn’t really comply to more traditional communities. Yet they can still be evaluated under this meaning. Or he created some problems for groups such as the Nurcu group that didn’t support him. On the other hand, he opened the way for those who did support him. We can see that municipality benefits were provided to these groups. Their foundations were supported. Plots were allotted in short amounts of time, properties were rented out for incredibly low prices etc… This sort of give-and-take relationship took place.

Yet, whatever the communities took for themselves during this relationship, even if they only gave a single vote in return, they actually ended up losing a lot. We can see this a lot clearer after June 23. In that, a lot of communities that have identified themselves with Erdoğan, those communities that supported him in a panic on June 23 for the last time, or even if it isn’t for the last time, lastly supported Erdoğan, are now thinking deeply; they are thinking about what will happen next.

Yes, what will really happen after this? And this shows us that when one submits to the government like this, the issue is when one is subjected to those in power, if a community especially has historical roots such as the Nakşibendi, Kadiri, Cerrahi orders… The Cerrahi order for example, it used to be one of the most apolitical groups in Turkey. A lot of Cerrahi sheikhs, in time, from Muzaffer Ozak onwards, when I started journalism, afterwards the Cerrahi order during Sefer Baba’s time, there’s a person who’s name I can’t remember, it’s not so important, he used to go on television and had the face to say that it was wrong for pregnant women to walk in the streets – how can I put this – the Cerrahi order in the hands of ‘cheap’ people, even these structures have made themselves dependant on politics and afterwards these people, now, these groups, in upcoming periods are going to tell us how they are above politics, how they are at the same distance from everyone, how it doesn’t matter who runs the government or municipalities and they could work with everyone, that they respect everyone; but, they will be taking on a huge inheritance and burden.

I think that: When I started studying these incidences, as a journalist from 1985 onwards, there were plenty of ways that certain Islamic groups, communities could be criticized. But in each one them, when you look at how the people join these groups, you see that their true search is ethereal. Meaning, it is about spiritual satisfaction, a way to distance oneself from attachment and personal problems. At the same time, to be a part of a huge collective, it is where both individual and societal searches join together. And throughout history, a lot of these communities have come to our day in one way or another.

In the eighties we saw a transformation of these communities. Especially the İskenderpaşa Community, under the leadership of Mahmut Esad Çoşan, tried to make it in tune with modernism. But of course, there was the deep-seated Fethullah Gülen. With all of this, a lot of communities went through a transformation to adapt to modernism, they had to. But after they entered this phase, we saw that they easily left behind everything of what made a community, an actual community.

Right now, in Turkey, the title of this broadcast: “Are there any independent religious communities left?” Yes, there are. But very little. And their power is weak. They don’t have the courage to take action. Because they are scared of the government’s authority. I don’t know what will happen in the upcoming period. But other than that, we know that, just like with the media, 90% of the Islamic community in Turkey is controlled by Erdoğan, one way or another.

And with Erdoğan’s crisis, they are also in a serious crisis. I honestly don’t think that they can piece themselves together after this. Of course, they’ll start slowly, they already have. But this course of events, Erdoğan’s loss, will mean their loss also. There are not many communities independent of the government. If the ruling powers change, then they will automatically become independent. Alright, sure. But I don’t think they will be able to stand on their feet. Because, they associated themselves and their existence with Erdoğan so much, that I think the situation ahead of us is pretty perilous. It’s not even looking bright now.

They may have increased their wealth, they may have increased their companies, they may own a lot of different things in different places. But this won’t be enough to sustain the qualification of them being an Islamic community. Another incidence is of course Fetuhallism. Fetuhallism reached its highest position as a community, in all ways. And with this arrogance, due to the bad things it did to Turkey, the bad things it did within this period, it fell from the top to the bottom straight away. This example, the Fetuhallist example, of course does not fit with the examples given here.

Yet, I don’t think the future is bright for those communities that exist now and have associated themselves completely with Erdoğan. Let me make a note: before March 31, I heard some groups supporting İmamoğlu. I don’t want to name names because I had no possibility to confirm. But one of these is a group that we know was quite close to Erdoğan before now. I’ve head of others too.

Even this shows that some ambitious Islamic groups have seen the direction things are taking, and they do have these insights, we must accept this; they can truly see where Turkey is going and they change position accordingly; just as how they supported Özal, then distanced themselves from him to wane towards Demirel, then the Welfare Party (RP) who they belittled and afterwards forming relationships with the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

I’d like to stress this especially: The greatest allegations of these communities, the greatest power, is with regards to them seeing themselves above politics. And claiming that politics is not something they sympathise with, not something that is suitable to them. And therefore, they have the chance to look at the world and the country from above. But now, there are many community members or community heads that have taken on positions with parties or as organisation heads. And we know that it may be hard for them to capture the hearts of people from this moment on.

If we were to summarise; those who have gained power with Erdoğan, as I have always said, I had a suggestion – “Those who win beside Erdoğan, don’t want to lose with him.” A lot of the communities are like this too. But it is important to stress this: Some will not forget they have won with Erdoğan. Therefore, if they switch direction as a result of this loss, it will remind them that everyone actually knows everything. I don’t think it’s possible for those communities that supported Erdoğan to come out of this without harm.

In reality, this is a development that will do good for Turkey; because the disintegration of these structures that appear spiritual but are actually very materialistic, will allow for religious life in Turkey to normalise. I truly hope that in the shortest amount of the time, the DİB will evolve towards becoming an institution that truly recognises the religious needs of all civilians within the country and distance itself from the government. All they have done so far are to have made certain comments, fetwas and organisations under the order of the government. And whilst doing this, they are doing it with our tax money. That must be stressed out. Yes, that’s all I have to say. Have a good day.

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