Turkey’s highest religious leader replaced

ISTANBUL – Ali Bardakoglu, president of the Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs, Diyanet, was unexpectedly replaced Thursday by his deputy, Mehmet Görmez. There is wide speculation in Turkish newspapers about the reason for Bardakoglu’s dismissal. The Turkish government has stated that Bardakoglu’s term of leadership had lasted long enough, Bardakoglu says it was his choice to retire.

Bardakoglu was appointed in 2003 by the previous Turkish President, Sezer, a staunch secularist. That was one year after the AKP, a party with Islamic roots detested by staunch secularists, came to power. The relations between Bardakoglu and the AKP were reportedly never very warm. Recently Bardakoglu made public announcements that didn’t suit the AKP, and those are allegedly behind his dismissal now.

Last month AKP Prime Minister Erdogan called on Bardakoglu to speak out about the ‘headscarf issue’. Instead of supporting the government by, for example, pointing out that wearing the headscarf is compulsory in Islam, Bardakoglu said that Diyanet doesn’t speak out about political matters and that the headscarf issue should be solved by politicians.

As well, Turkish papers point out that Bardakoglu doesn’t support the efforts of the government to give more religious freedom to Alevis (an Islamic sect). Last week the Diyanet leader said that Alevism can’t even be considered a branch of Islam, a statement the government supposedly found hard to swallow. There is also said to be a lack of support from Bardakoglu for the ‘Kurdish opening’, the efforts by the government to solve the Kurdish question without violence.

Bardakoglu said on Thursday in his farewell speech that he had already intended to retire in November last year, but that the government asked him to stay in his position till July, when important changes within Diyanet would be implemented. It remains unclear why he then didn’t resign last summer, and it adds strength to the rumours.

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