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Turkey’s Diyanet denies Erdoğan’s claims about mosques torched by Gezi protestors

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The Religious Affairs Directorate of Turkey (Diyanet) has denied claims made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said participants of the mass Gezi Park protests in 2013 set mosques on fire during the protests in a sign of disrespect for Muslim houses of worship, the Birgün daily reported.

In a speech on the ninth anniversary of the Gezi Park protests in June, which were sparked in İstanbul against plans by Erdoğan’s government to demolish Gezi Park in the popular Taksim neighborhood and which quickly turned into anti-government protests across Turkey, Erdoğan, who frequently attacks the Gezi protestors with foul language and holds them responsible for the economic deterioration in the country, said the protestors set police vehicles and mosques on fire.

His claim led to outrage among the protestors and some opposition parties, which accused Erdoğan of lying and trying to demonize the Gezi Park protestors. They also called on Erdoğan to show evidence to back up his claims about the burned down mosques.

When Erdoğan failed to show any evidence, main opposition Republican People’s Party (AKP) deputy Tacettin Bayır asked a directorate responsible for mosques and their services about Erdoğan’s claims through the Presidential Communications Center (CİMER). He asked the directorate, operating under the Diyanet, about the number of mosques that were set on fire, what their names are and in which provinces they are located.

In response, the directorate said it received no reports or documents about mosques from any province being set on fire at the time of the Gezi Park protests.

Based on the response he received from CİMER, Bayır said an agency tied to Erdoğan is refuting his claims about the burned down mosques and confirming in a way that Erdoğan is a liar.

In another speech earlier this summer, Erdoğan also reiterated an earlier claim that the protestors acted disrespectfully in a mosque in which they took refuge from the police.

“These terrorists [who took refuge] in the Bezmialem Mosque [in the Beşiktaş district of İstanbul] littered the mosque with beer bottles. They are rotten to the core, they are sluts,” said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan used the Turkish word “sürtük,” a profanity that could be translated as “slut.”

Erdoğan faced accusations of lying again due to his claims suggesting that the Gezi Park protestors acted disrespectfully in the historic Bezmialem Valide Sultan 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.

Fuat Yıldırım, the then-deputy imam (müezzin) of the Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque during the 2013 Gezi protests, said during a police interrogation 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 a man of faith he could not lie and say what he had not seen.

The protests, which were the biggest challenge to the rule of then-prime minister Erdoğan, were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to the disproportionate use of force by the police.

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