Imam criticized for urging people to arm themselves on evening of presidential runoff

An imam in İstanbul who supports the ruling party has drawn angry criticism for urging people to arm themselves on the evening of the presidential runoff on May 28 and saying he already has two loaded guns, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Birgün daily.

Birgün released a video showing Murat Gündoğdu, an imam at the Cebeci Mosque in Sultangazi, urging people to arm themselves and take to the streets in the event of the victory of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s secular rival, on the evening of the runoff.

Kılıçdaroğlu, an Alevi and a retired bureaucrat, broke ethnic barriers and Erdoğan’s stranglehold on the media and state institutions to give the opposition’s best performance of Erdoğan’s years in office in the May 14 election, winning almost 45 percent of the vote.

But Erdoğan still came within a fraction of a point of topping the 50 percent threshold needed to win in the first round, despite Turkey’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s and opinion surveys showing him headed for his first national election defeat.

“Brothers, prepare your guns. Make your guns ready on the evening of May 28. I have two guns loaded and ready to go,” Gündoğdu is heard saying to the congregation in the footage captured with a mobile phone.

The imam is also heard challenging supporters of the opposition and referring to them in derogatory terms.

Imam Gündoğdu’s controversial remarks came during his Friday sermon on May 19.

The imam spouts propaganda for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during almost every Friday sermon, which has led to complaints from people, Birgün said, adding that his house had previously been attacked by unidentified parties.

Other footage released by BirGün shows Halit Demir, a 53-year-old military veteran, being removed from the mosque for expressing disapproval of the imam.

Meanwhile, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has launched an investigation into Gündoğdu for urging people to arm themselves for the evening of the presidential runoff.

“An investigation has been initiated by our institution regarding the footage claimed to be from a mosque in the Sultangazi district of İstanbul, which has been circulating in certain media outlets,” the directorate said in a press statement on Sunday.

Speaking to the Demirören news agency (DHA) about the probe, Gündoğdu on Monday said he had “no intention of engaging in any provocative actions.”

Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, leader of the opposition Future Party (GP), accused Erdoğan and his ally Devlet Bahçeli, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chair, for their polarizing language, which he argued paved the way for the imam’s scandalous remarks.

“I’m addressing those in power; … don’t divide the society. … Abandon this divisive, polarizing language. Stop using our mosques, religion and national and spiritual values for your political power. Don’t play with fire,” Davutoğlu said in a video he posted on Twitter.

The Diyanet is supposed to be apolitical, according to the constitution, but in recent years it has been increasingly politicized under the AKP government, to the extent that Erdoğan compared the directorate’s staff and imams to “members of the army” in 2018.

The Turkish government has been accused of incorporating political issues into Friday sermons and using the directorate as an instrument to silence dissent and cover up wrongdoing.

The directorate’s 2023 budget is TL 35.9 billion ($1.8 billion), a 13 billion lira increase over 2022, a jump of more than 60 percent, and is far larger than the budgets of seven out of 17 ministries in the country.

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