Erdoğan ally Bahçeli throws 'full support' behind top cleric for praying at court building opening

Erdoğan's ally Devlet Bahçeli has staunchly defended the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Erbaş, after the latter was criticized for extending prayers during a ceremony marking the beginning of 2021-2022 judicial year. "We affirm our full support [for him]. The targeting of him, in a way, is the targeting of freedom of religion and conscience,” Bahçeli said on Sept. 9.

This collage photo shows MHP chair Bahçeli (R) and President Erdoğan, Court of Cassation chair Akarca and Diyanet head Erbaş praying.

Duvar English

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ally and the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has thrown his “full support” behind the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) after the latter drew severe criticism for praying at a ceremony marking the opening of a new service building for the Court of Cassation last week.

“It is completely primitive that the pray uttered by the Diyanet head has met with a severe reaction from some fractions. Turkey is a Muslim country. This spiritual reality will not change. Diyanet head Ali Erbaş has done the right thing. We affirm our full support [for him]. The targeting of him is, in a way, the targeting of freedom of religion and conscience,” MHP chair Devlet Bahçeli said in a written statement on Sept. 9.

“Secularism is the basic element and keystone of the Turkish Republic. Coming up with virtual fears, trying to deepen the social and political polarization through this is one of the biggest evils that can be done to Turkey,” he further said.

A new service building of the Court of Cassation, Turkey's high court of appeals, was opened during a ceremony on Sept. 1 which saw the attendance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and well as Diyanet head Erbaş.

Erdoğan and Court of Cassation chair Mehmet Akarca, who was wearing the judicial gown, were seen with raised hands alongside Erbaş at the ceremony, which also marked the opening of the 2021-2022 judiciary year.

The scene later drew severe criticism, with people saying that the secularism principle of the Turkish Constitution had been violated.

Erbaş's supporters said that the prayer was not any different than the usual practice and that the top imam was not extending a prayer to the judiciary, but instead to the new building.