In recent weeks there have been several incidents that target the sensitivities of Turkey's secular and Kemalist people. In Istanbul, a woman was verbally abused by private security because of her dress, and days after this incident a man attacked a statue of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. Moreover, a proposal to allow "muftis," religious civil servants at the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB), to register and conduct marriages has stirred controversy.
Spokesman Mahir Ünal (L) and Daily Sabah's Ali Ünal
Commenting on these issues, Mahir Ünal, the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) deputy chairman and party spokesman, said the judiciary is doing whatever necessary when people are attacked because of their lifestyle, regardless of their lifestyle. Ünal also said there has always been an effort to create tension concerning lifestyle since the AK Party came to power, while underlining that everyone's lifestyle and beliefs are under the assurance of the state.
Regarding criticism about muftis being given the authority to perform marriage ceremonies, Ünal said that this issue has been demanded by certain segment of society for many years, and it's their duty to resolve this problem. Ünal also stressed that muftis will have to comply with marriage laws just like any other civil servants tasked with performing a marriage ceremony.
Touching upon why the Ministry of National Education has removed Darwin's theory of evolution from the curriculum and added "jihad," Ünal said that if you don't teach your values through legitimate means, someone might abuse these conditions and make Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) or Daesh militants out of your children.
Daily Sabah: Last week, there were several news items about certain people being harassed by others because of how they dressed. It's alleged that there is an attack on the secular lifestyle. What is your take on this subject?
Mahir Ünal: These allegations have always been there. Since the very first day, we have asserted that everybody's lifestyle is protected by the state. The judiciary is doing whatever necessary when people are attacked because of their lifestyle, regardless of their lifestyle. There was always been attempts to create a perception that one lifestyle is being shielded, while others are under attack. Unfortunately, those who are making these allegations never talked about lifestyle concerns of Muslims in the past, not even once. At the time, those who pray, fast and wore headscarves were seen as criminals in this country. Intervening and interfering in such lifestyle preferences was seen as progressive and modern. Today, everyone is entitled to their lifestyle; attempts to create rifts over lifestyle no longer works. If someone attempts to attack this country's values, the judiciary will do whatever is necessary. The attack on Atatürk's statue must be regarded in this frame.
D.S.: Similarly, there were criticisms about muftis being given the authority to perform marriage ceremonies, that it is incompatible with secularity. What are your opinions on this matter?
M.Ü.: If a certain segment of society is having issues because of their beliefs, it's the states duty to resolve them. The state should address societal demands and needs. The issue here is that certain segments of society perceive others' needs and demands as a threat to themselves. It's truly intriguing. For instance, in Europe, people get married in church, and the ceremony is performed by priests. Some claim that child marriage will increase and become commonplace. It's completely unrelated. Muftis will have to comply with laws about marriage, just like any other civil servants tasked with performing the marriage ceremony. Moreover, could there be any distinction between those civil servants and muftis?
On the other hand, differences in a society must be seen as a heritage, a bounty, a treasure. Creating a uniform society is what the past state mentality was trying to achieve, and it's definitely wrong. The state used to decide who was what, how a person should live, dress, believe and think. This was the reality, because the state was afraid of its own people. To secure itself, the state was attempting to have a monolithic society; this was the idea. However, all of us have seen this was the largest issue. We are a society that knows to live together despite our differences. Christians, Jewish people, Nusayris, Muslims and many other segments have lived together in this country for many centuries. We have a profound heritage in cohabitation; we should trust in this heritage.
D.S.: It alleged that the Ministry of National Education has removed Darwin's theory of evolution from the curriculum and added "jihad" to it with a recent update. How do you evaluate this?
M.Ü.: If you don't explain what a concept like "jihad" truly means, someone might teach it wrongfully and abuse the concept. What is jihad? It's the defense of one's own flag, country and values. This is what we have done in the War of Independence. As President Erdoğan said recently, one's fight against their own vices is also a form of jihad. Thus, if you don't teach your values through legitimate means, someone might abuse these conditions and make FETÖ or Daesh militants out of your children.
Regarding the theory of evolution, science provides options to thinking and learning. If you force the theory of evolution as the only option, it's not the scientific way of teaching. Our previous curriculum was like this; to seem scientific, the theory of evolution was forced on children as the only explanation for the origin of species. Now, we are providing various explanations, including the theory of evolution, creationism and other ones to children. This is what the Ministry of National Education has changed. Unfortunately, those who made a religion out of secularism are now turning evolution into a religion. This is wrong. I hope Turkey will leave these pointless discussions behind.
D.S.: Also last week, the Akıncı Airbase trial, the command center of the July 15 coup, started. You observed the trial; could you share your observations?
First, we have to clear certain facts; the main opposition leader alleges that there are a million victims and the real putschists aren't being tried, which is an irresponsible statement, especially for a politician. The real putschists are being tried; they were caught in action on July 15. Second, it is impossible for the Turkish judicial system to detain or try anyone without any evidence. As I have said, some were caught red handed, while infiltrators in the judiciary revealed themselves in the 2014 Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) elections, and the remaining FETÖ members were uncovered through their instant messaging programs like ByLock and Eagle. Therefore, none is being victimized by the state. Third, we have to think about what any other state would have done if it were in our shoes; this, I leave to the imaginations of people. Since the very first day, we have been sensitive about fair trials in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Both our Ministry of Justice and the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (previously known as HSYK) are extremely meticulous about this issue. To not cause any human rights infringements and have cases submitted to the ECHR for retrial, all of our institutions are working extra hard.
About my observations on trials, we inevitably get emotional when we enter the courtroom. Relatives of martyrs and veterans are there; moreover, as people who have experienced that terrible night and saw these traitors who attacked with tanks, helicopters and warplanes, we feel full of rage. It wasn't an easy process. We are talking about a band of traitors who killed 250 and wounded over 2,000 without any mercy. What can be considered as a gain is that we are now free of a serpent that has infiltrated the state for 40 years. For this reason, our state is healthier, and it's recovering quickly.
D.S.: On the other hand, some claim that this organization was allowed to act freely. What is your response?
We haven't allowed or enabled them to do so. This organization posing as an NGO was already present when we came to power. We have now freed Turkey from this malicious tumor; this is what we have done. On the other hand, there are many similar organizations around the world. These are what we call cults based on belief with the coordination of emotions and ideas. It is a messianic cult. Assessing it as a religious group is wrong because religious groups in Turkey have certain traditions. However, FETÖ doesn't fit in this thousand-year old tradition of wisdom. This organization was seen as a legitimate structure in society until 2013. There were thousands of people, seemingly journalists, businesspeople, politicians and ordinary storekeepers who were in contact with all walks of life and leaders like Tansu Çiller, Süleyman Demiral, Turgut Özal and Bülent Ecevit. Yet, their mask dropped with the Dec. 17-25 events. It was revealed that they had abused every facility of the state and infiltrated state institutions for 40 years. What is important is the environment that nurtures this organization. Some claim that they warned us about FETÖ; however, it is not true. They were threatening all religious people in Turkey, calling them regressive. We were also threatened in this respect. People were being ostracized because of their beliefs and their lifestyle. For instance, people were not admitted to the army just because they were praying, their mothers wore the headscarf, and they were graduates of religious schools. This forced people to appear differently, resorting to taqiyya. Lack of transparency creates such hazardous organizations. The state realized that this was a parallel state structure. We have seen those bureaucrats, journalists and such taking orders from a center, out in Pennsylvania. It was named the Parallel State Structure and deemed a terrorist organization. In this respect, the state started to fight this organization from 2013 onwards. President Erdoğan fought ardently against this organization. People know who were protecting the said organization at the time.
D.S.: How long will this fight against FETÖ continue?
First, we have to be grateful that we are now free of such an organization, as they could've seized total control of the state, God forbid. Second, Turkey is a powerful state that has a strong societal structure. There isn't another society that could've thwarted the coup and then continued daily life the day after. Nevertheless, this organization has been infiltrating state institutions at various levels and has caused serious harm to the state and society. There are many fields that require rehabilitation. No one should expect all issues to be resolved in a year; however, as I have said earlier, processes are going rather well.
D.S.: Some are alleging that personnel dismissals from state institutions under the fight against FETÖ are actually a cover to purge any opposition and clear the way for those who have close relations with AK Party. What is your take on these allegations?
All of those who were suspended and dismissed were found to use ByLock or in contact with the organization. If it were the other way around, the opposition in Turkey would have caused a public outcry. Regarding those who are taking these positions, the state personnel law is clear about the criteria. You have to enter the state personnel selection exam and be placed in accordance with your score and preferences. It's not possible to employ anyone just because someone at a certain ministry wants to. This is also true for municipalities; they can employ contracted personnel after approval by the Ministry of the Interior.
Turkey is a state with long-standing traditions and rules that determine how one can be employed. We cannot just dismiss 100,000 personnel and replace them with AK Party members; this isn't a tribe or clan. Unfortunately, these allegations are all a part of the smear campaign against Turkey. Even the main opposition party cannot allege this, as it is completely baseless. For decades, how the state employs personnel has been the same. If we had removed the examinations or changed the procedures of employment, then some could've argued for the aforementioned allegations. We have only had a minor change in the employment of teachers, and the reason behind it was to protect the state against future FETÖ infiltration. As you know, FETÖ is quite strong in the education system. For this reason, we added an interview to the procedure. Teachers must be loyal to their own nation and the state; this is an issue beyond politics.
D.S.: The main opposition party is constantly saying that the political pillar of the FETÖ is still yet to be revealed. What is your response to this issue?
If this structure infiltrated the state and everywhere else, it's highly possible that they're also present in politics. We started the fight against this organization. After the Dec. 17-25 2013 judicial coup, the organization was deemed as a parallel state structure and a terrorist organization. We quickly started to fight against this organization. Throughout this process, the AK Party has gone through three intraparty congresses, two parliamentary elections and a municipal election. Therefore, we have eliminated FETÖ members from our party. All of our party administrators were selected meticulously. There are those whom we took legal action against. For instance, former deputies like İlhan İşbilen, Hakan Şükür, Ahmet Öksüzkaya and Hami Yıldırım all faced legal action. Many of them are currently being tried. In the past 4 years, we as the AK Party have done our part in cleaning the FETÖ members. We have dismissed them from our party and have lifted their immunity.
The same question should be asked to the Republican People's Party (CHP). What has the CHP done in this regard? Have they done anything? No. Now, they are saying "give us information, so we can eliminate FETÖ members in politics. The AK Party did nothing." However, this is simply not true.