The former imam of an İstanbul mosque where protestors took refuge during the 2013 Gezi protests said he has been subjected to attacks and threats for contradicting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s narrative that the protestors consumed alcohol in the mosque, the Sözcü daily reported.
The Gezi Park protests in June 2013 were sparked in İstanbul against plans by then-prime minister Erdoğan’s government to demolish Gezi Park in the popular Taksim neighborhood and quickly turned into anti-government protests across Turkey. The protests were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to the disproportionate use of force by the police.
Fuat Yıldırım, the then-deputy imam of the historic Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque in Beşiktaş, spoke to journalist İsmail Saymaz from the Sözcü daily about his ordeal after the Gezi Park protests.
Yıldırım, who was recently nominated as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s parliamentary candidate for the upcoming election in May, said he faced attacks and threats after rebutting Erdoğan’s claims that the Gezi Park protestors acted disrespectfully in the mosque, drank beer there and left the bottles behind.
Alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, and the consumption of alcohol in a house of worship is considered disrespectful.
Yıldırım said during police questioning at the time that thousands of people had sought refuge in the mosque after the police started using tear gas. In the commotion he had seen people with their shoes on in the mosque, which is also usually not permissible, but he had not seen anyone actually consume alcohol. He added that as an imam he could not lie and say what he had not seen.
Yıldırım was removed from his post in September 2013, after the wave of protests had subsided, and sent to work in a village mosque on the outskirts of İstanbul, in a move that was seen as a demotion because he had contradicted Erdoğan’s narrative.
During the weeks of the protest, Erdoğan also said a range of disrespectful activities had taken place in the mosque and had been caught on videotape and would later be presented to the public. However, no such video was ever made public.
Yıldırım told Yılmaz that he had received threatening calls “whenever this issue becomes part of the public agenda” and eventually was attacked by six people with guns after performing the evening prayer one day.
“They attacked me, saying, ‘How dare you refute [the claims of] our president?’ … Then, one of them pulled out a gun. … He didn’t have the courage to shoot. He hit me with the handle of the gun, breaking the skin. … The bleeding wouldn’t stop. They said, ‘Let’s take you to the hospital.’ But I said it would make the headlines,” the columnist quoted Yıldırım as saying.
Yıldırım also said that Yasin Yıldız, then-deputy secretary-general of parliament and current head of the National Palaces Department, and a crew took photos and videos in the mosque before it examined by the crime scene investigation team and that they “spoiled evidence.”
The deputy imam added that he saw in the newspapers the next day a picture of a beer can in front of a mosque window before the arrival of Yıldız and his crew, and others taken inside the mosque, implying that it was a move to create the perception that beer was consumed in the mosque during the protests.
Yıldırım claims Erdoğan was deceived about what went on in the mosque
The deputy imam added that although he told then-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker Süleyman Gündüz and then-Minister of European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış that he didn’t see anyone drinking alcohol in the mosque during the protests, Bağış lied to Erdoğan and said that Yıldırım only said so because he was threatened by the Press Council, one of the leading journalism organizations in Turkey.
Yıldırım further said that Erdoğan then claimed during a party rally that Yıldırım was threatened and that news reports that included his statements that he didn’t witness any protestors committing disrespectful acts in the mosque, including the consumption of alcohol, were fabricated.
According to Yılmaz, Yıldırım confronted Bağış on the issue when he came to visit him at the mosque a few weeks later.
“I told him, ‘While I was telling you the truth, you distorted the facts, deceived [Erdoğan] and put us in danger. … He … whispered in my ear, ‘Sir, the gentleman likes these kinds of things,’ referring to the president,” Yıldırım told the columnist.