Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, commonly known as Diyanet, has sought to intervene in the Kobane trial as a ‘wronged party’. The case, which dates back to 2014, revolves around the ISIS attempt to invade Kobane and the subsequent political fallout in Turkey. The case has been a focal point of political tensions, with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at its centre.
According to peace activist Hakan Tahmaz, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), having tasted electoral defeat for the first time in the general election of June 2015 and subsequently in the local elections of March 2019, identified the Kurdish political movement as a significant factor in these losses. This realisation has driven the ruling party to accelerate its efforts to marginalise and neutralise the HDP and Kurdish political activism. The move to close down the HDP and the initiation of the Kobane trial shortly after the 2019 local elections seem to be part of this broader strategy.
In its intervention plea, the Directorate presented a detailed petition stating, “Our office, which is in charge of enlightening the society about religion… is the most effective and most respected institution keeping the religious, moral and spiritual values of the society alive.” The plea further elaborated on the “damage” caused by “terrorism”, emphasising harm to mosques and the reputation of the state. The Directorate argued that the actions of those involved in the Kobane trial have “fundamentally shaken” its role, leading to “irreparable consequences,” and suggesting that if trust in religious services is lost, the space will be filled by “deviant” movements and groups.
Green Left Party’s Diyarbakır (Amed) MP Serhat Eren responded sharply to the Directorate’s intervention, questioning its past silence on various atrocities. He remarked, “Did the Directorate of Religious Affairs intervene in those cases when our people were burned alive in Sivas, when ISIS barbarians attacked in Diyarbakır, Suruç and Ankara Railway Station, or even when the walls of the mosque were painted with blood at the foot of the mosque in Diyarbakır Station Square?” Eren further challenged the Directorate, asking, “In the name of what religion do you act, which religion are you referring to, how can you have the audacity to define millions of Kurds as having deviant tendencies?”
The HDP described Directorate’s intervention plea as a clear indication of their “ongoing vengeful spirit”. They criticised the Directorate’s claims, which were submitted without any evidence to back them up, as an attempt to influence the judicial process. The HDP further accused the Directorate of turning religious values, sanctities, and even places of worship into tools to legitimise the state’s policies. They condemned the Directorate for overstepping its defined duties by siding with the current government’s policies and for exploiting the people’s faith and their places of worship.
The recent intervention by the Directorate has been viewed by many as a clear indication of the evolution of its role from a purely religious institution to a political actor. Critics argue that the Directorate’s move to become a party in a political trial, especially one as sensitive as the Kobane trial, is a stark departure from its foundational principles. The backlash was immediate, with women from the Free Women’s Movement (TJA) in Şırnak’s (Şirnex) Silopi (Silopiya) district protesting against the Directorate’s move, labelling it as “hostility to Kurds”. They displayed a banner rejecting what they called the “fatwa-like” petition presented by the Directorate, including the slogan, “Jin Jiyan Azadi” (Woman, Life, Freedom).
The Kobane trial itself was initiated six years after the events it pertains to, with the indictment being presented in 2020. The prosecutor delivered its summing up on 14 April this year. The accused, including former HDP co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, were given a mere 28 days to prepare their defence against the 5,268-page indictment. This 53rd session of the trial concluded last week. Throughout the proceedings, requests by the defence have been consistently denied, and evidence in their favour has not been sought.
In the broader context, the Kobane case is seen as laying the legal groundwork for the the court case seeking closure of the HDP, according to Tahmaz, who says the intention is to conclude the Kobane case first, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of the case for the closure of the party and/or creating a foundation of legitimacy for its verdict.