Three weeks after the Turkish interior minister had voiced allegations in the Turkish parliament that there were ‘455 PKK-linked’ individuals within the workforce of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB), the government media launched a campaign on Thursday targeting certain individuals recruited by a municipality-affiliated company for funeral services.
Interior minister Süleyman Soylu’s allegations on 8 December had come only three days after the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on 5 December: “Istanbul shall find its owner again, and this is the Justice and Development Party.”
As Soylu had made no reference to any court ruling, indictment or even criminal investigation in his allegations in the Turkish parliament and only mentioned about ‘files’ in the ministry, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Mayor of Istanbul, said on 27 December that he stood by the 86,000 workers of the municipality and called upon Soylu to resign from his post as minister.
İmamoğlu had had to win the local elections twice in 2019 to become the mayor since the Istanbul results on 31 March 2019 were annulled by the Turkish Supreme Election Council without any legal grounds, and he could assume his post as mayor only after the re-election on 23 June. It was a huge blow for Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) who had not lost in Istanbul since 1994.
While Soylu and the whole political administration were recently under opposition pressure for making baseless allegations, the first solid claim came out not in the form of a public announcement by the Turkish ministry of justice, but via an article in the pro government media, Sabah. The article claimed that a criminal investigation was carried out by the Gendarmerie Command in Istanbul, and certain municipality workers were investigated on suspicion of links to the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), designated a ‘terrorist organisation’ in Turkey and the European Union.
‘Using words specific to PKK’ in an ‘organisation mosque’
The article said: “It has been discovered that a funeral service worker named Mehmet Emin Aslan, who is currently recruited at a municipality-affiliated company, has made sermons in an organisation’s mosque in Yıldıztepe, using words specific to the PKK and not common in the Kurmanci language spoken in Turkey.”
The article also criminalised the legal Association of Clerics (DİAY-DER) by referring to it as a ‘PKK affiliated association.’
Earlier, 28 association members were detained in house raids on 3 July 2021 and nine were arrested on charges of making sermons in Kurdish and participating in ‘civilian Friday prayers’.
The ‘civilian Friday prayers’ have been a common way of protest by religious Kurds in Turkey against the politicisation of Islamic worship services at mosques, with a group of worshipers praying outside the mosque under the leadership of civilian clerics instead of state-appointed ones who are known to make political and ideological propaganda in support of the political establishment.