Government-ally and far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has targeted main opposition bloc Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate and Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu over the latter’s religious identity.
During a rally held in Turkey’s Eskişehir province on April 29, Bahçeli said “Kılıçdaroğlu's Alevism is not sincere and he has never agreed to any compromise.”
“He confessed that he was an Alevi for the first time in the past days, of course we respect him, but we also decisively ask why he has not spoken until today and why he needed this explanation as May 14 elections approach. We see sectarianism as a terrible threat to our nation and country. The mosque, the cemevi, both are ours. We are all Muslims, our God is one, our prophet is one,” the 75-year-old leader said.
“Today's CHP administration has nothing to do with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of the republic). The address of those who support Mustafa Kemal is the MHP. Those who voted for the CHP, let's vote for the MHP this time. Those who voted for the Good (İYİ) Party, let's reconcile. Kılıçdaroğlu deviated into ethnic and sectarian incitement,” he added.
İYİ Party is a MHP-breakaway party that aims to garner nationalist and centralist opposition votes.
Bahçeli’s remarks came one week after Kılıçdaroğlu openly talked about his Alevi heritage, something he does not frequently express as millions of other Alevis in Turkey. However, it was not the first time he said that he is an Alevi.
The Alevi community in Turkey defines their sect as the path of Islam’s prophet Muhammed and his son-in-law and caliph Ali.
They make up an estimated 15-25 percent of Turkey’s population, the second main religious group after Sunni Islam.
Despite the fundamental differences in religious practices between the two groups, the Turkish government to-date refuses to acknowledge Alevi cemevi as the legitimate place of worship and to grant cemevis the same financial support as mosques. Instead, Turkey claims that cemevi is a cultural entity. Alevis have long been discriminated against in Turkey.