Turkey’s main opposition leader and joint presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has brushed off reactions to a man insulting his faith during his visit to a graveyard in the earthquake-stricken Adıyaman (Semsûr) province on the first day of Eid al-Fitr on Friday.
“A grieving person in a cemetery can say and do anything; it is necessary to assume his grief caused that. Let’s not talk about these kinds of things today, let’s remember our lost ones properly,” announced Kılıçdaroğlu on Twitter after the incident and warned: “Please don’t expose that person; let’s act responsibly, especially on social media. I have already forgiven him.”
The incident occurred during a prayer in the cemetery when a man shouted that Kılıçdaroğlu does not know how to recite an Islamic prayer, referring to his Alevi faith.
The citizens in the graveyard removed the man from the scene and the incident sparked a strong backlash since it took place at a cemetery where the 6 February earthquake victims have been laid to rest.
Kılıçdaroğlu recently spoke of his Alevi faith for the first time as part of a political campaign in a video message calling on young first-time voters to move past sectarian divides.
The main opposition leader’s video, which has now been viewed more than 95 million times on Twitter alone, evoked many positive reactions, including among conservative Sunnis. Kılıçdaroğlu also received support from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accused the opposition leader of political opportunism. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu argued that there were no obstacles for Alevis in Turkish politics and Kılıçdaroğlu was “playing the victim”.
However, the Alevi minority in Turkey faced severe discrimination by the state and suffered many atrocities, with targetings and massacres extending back to the Ottoman Empire. Kılıçdaroğlu himself has faced much hostility in the past over his Alevi faith, lately from those who argue an Alevi could “never govern Turkey”.