Project to employ religious figures triggers reactions
ISTANBUL / ANKARA
Kurdish groups in southeastern and eastern cities of Turkey held their friday prayers outside mosques as part of civil disobedience acts last year. Hürriyet photodeputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ’s recent comments regarding the employment of an 1,000 respected religious figures as personnel for Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate in the southeast and eastern parts of Turkey has prompted differing reactions.
Bozdağ announced they will employ 1,000 mele, respected religious people, in the southeast and eastern parts of Turkey as contracted personnel under Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
“Mele, as we know in the eastern parts of Turkey, are people who are respected, although they have not had a religious education. We would like to benefit from these people if they are able to pass the exam we shall open up to them. We are currently considering opening 1,000 positions,” Bozdağ told daily Hürriyet.
Bozdağ’s comments brought different reactions from other political parties and academics.
According to Vahap Coşkun, professor at Diyarbakır’s Dicle Univeristy’s law faculty, such a project aims to bring an understanding of religion that is under state authority. “The aim of Turkey’s Religious Affairs is to use religion for state purposes. With this project, they want to use the meles for their own end,” Coşkun told Hürriyet Daily News. “However, I do not think this will be successful since the public respects these people for their civil position.”
“The outcome of this project will achieve nothing but filling the empty positions in Religious Affairs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate released a press statement regarding the case, saying they have already implemented similar projects for Turkey’s Caferi community – a sect of Shiite Islam – and the new project would not only include eastern regions but will incorporate all areas where there is a need. “It is not right to present the objective of this project as employment of the mele. The project aims to employ qualified personnel within positions with peculiarities where religious service is needed. The article’s description of those people as ‘having religious knowledge without religious education’ is not reflecting the truth,” the statement said.
Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Altan Tan, known to have an Islamic background, said he was against government control of religion but voiced support for the plan if the current system stays. “This is a positive development for voluntary imams to become permanent government-paid staff. There are a lot of literate Kurdish mullahs, but they do not have diplomas recognized by the government,” Tan told the Hürriyet Daily News. However, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy İhsan Özkes, a retired mufti, harshly criticized the project, describing it as “a political maneuver of the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] to raise popular support in southeastern Anatolia.” Özkes claimed the project would curb the employment chances of graduates of public religious schools and urged the Religious Affairs Directorate to stay away from politics. “The government must stop mixing religion and politics. The project announced by Bozdağ is modifying the genes religion and the Religious Affairs Directorate,” he said.