Critics point to Erdogan’s criticism of New Year celebrations before Istanbul attack

by WorldTribune Staff, January 3, 2017

In condemning New Year’s celebrations and making it easier for jihadists to travel through the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist government helped create the climate that led to the New Year’s Eve terror attack in Istanbul, secular critics of Erdogan say.

Erdogan’s critics point to the religious-based criticism last week of New Year celebrations by pro-government media outlets and by Turkey’s leading Islamic cleric, Mehmet Gormez, head of the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, an official state institution.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkey's Religious Affairs Chief Mehmet Gormez. /AP
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s religious affairs chief Mehmet Gormez. /AP

Gormez issued a sermon that was to be preached in all of the country’s 85,000 mosques on Dec. 30, branding New Year celebrations as “illegitimate” and arguing they belonged to “other cultures.”

Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the terror attack at the Reina nightclub that left 39 people dead.

Author Elif Safak said in a tweet that blame for the nightclub attack rested not only with the gunman who carried out the killing but with “fanatics who have been spreading hate speech against New Year celebrations.”

Gormez condemned the massacre, but that hasn’t mollified a group of Turkish civil society representatives, who filed a criminal complaint against the cleric, saying his sermon encouraged the targeting of New Year’s Eve revelers.

Oya Ersoy, head of the Halkevleri rights group, said she would continue to defend secularism in Turkey, despite government threats. “We will defend life against death and secularism against bigotry. Bigotry kills, secularism makes [people] live.”

Ersoy is among the critics of Erdogan who contend he is responsible to some degree for the rise of ISIL. Critics say the president’s ruling Justice and Development Party has created a climate that allows radical Islamist thinking to thrive.

Some Erdogan critics say Ankara’s intelligence agencies actively channeled arms to jihadists and made it easy for foreign fighters to travel through Turkey to reach Syria.

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