Turkish authorities and fundamentalists take aim at secularists and members of the Halkevleri (People’s Houses) after the latter started the campaign “Fundamentalism kills, secularism saves” in the wake of the Reina Massacre on New Year’s in Istanbul. “The ministry should go and find the murderer who killed dozens at Reina and then sauntered out. It’s not a crime to defend secularism,” says Halkevleri member Ergin Çevik following neighborhood meetings in Istanbul’s Okmeydanı neighborhood
Members of the Halkevleri have been targeted by fundamentalists and the Interior Ministry on social media following the launching of a campaign to defend secularism in the wake of a massacre at Istanbul’s Reina night club just after midnight on New Year’s Day that was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“It’s enough. From now on, we won’t permit ISIL supporters or any jihadist-fundamentalist gangs in our neighborhoods. There’s a flag that needs to be raised against fundamentalism, and the name of that flag is secularism. Today, secularism means freedom, fraternity and the struggle for a humanist life. We call on everyone to become a part of this struggle. We call on everyone to call fundamentalists, fascists and lovers of the presidential [system] to account,” said the members of the Halkevleri in a teahouse in Istanbul’s Okmeydanı neighborhood in a message that was shared on Twitter as part of a campaign titled “Fundamentalism kills, secularism saves.”
Following the speech, fundamentalists began attacking the Halkevleri on social media. One user informed the Interior Ministry about the action, prompting the ministry to tweet: “[Your tipoff] has been conveyed to Anti-Terror Team. Please inform on people whenever you see [crimes].”
The ministry’s tweet was subsequently erased, but the pressure against the Halkevleri continued, with one member involved in the campaign, Ayşegül Başar, being detained early on 2 January in connection with the action. Başar, who is also a member of DİSK Basın-İş and an intern at Cumhuriyet newspaper, was detained in a morning raid. She has reportedly been barred from meeting with a lawyer for the next five days.
Detaining Başar is a “threat to those who are defending secularism,” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul MP Barış Yarkadaş.
“Why is the Interior Ministry upset that the youth are engaging in anti-ISIL campaigning? Why does the AKP [Justice and Development Party] and its media take offense when ISIL is cursed?” he said. “They’re threatening people so that no one talks about the truth.”
‘Is it a crime to defend secularism?’
Asked by Sendika.Org about the reasons for the meetings in teahouses in Okmeydanı, local Halkevleri member Ergin Çevik said: “ISIL and the jihadist killers that follow in the footsteps of ISIL have committed yet another massacre together with those that support them or have opened the way for them. This is not the first of these kinds of massacres and, under the current circumstances, it won’t be the last. We declared [with our action] that we want these massacres to end and that the struggle for secularism must rise for this to occur.”
The ministry subsequently began targeting the Halkevleri, Çevik said. “Apparently, it is a crime that we said ‘we will not permit ISIL members or jihadist gangs to enter our neighborhood’ and that we would defend secularism. When there are this many massacres in the country, and when there are attempts to drag our country and our people into greater darkness with every passing day, is it the job of the Interior Ministry to busy itself with what people are talking about in teahouses? They should go and find who committed the massacre. They should go and find the person who murdered dozens of people at Reina and then sauntered out; they should address the roots of jihadist murderers. It’s not a crime to defend secularism, and the Halkevleri will always continue to defend secularism.”
At least 39 people were killed and over 60 were injured when a gunman walked into the Reina night club along the Bosphorus at 1.15 in the morning on 1 January and began spraying the premises with bullets before escaping.
The attack came amid unprecedented attacks on the concept of New Year’s, with numerous Islamist organizations condemning the event as a “Christian holiday.” While members of a fascist organization held a fake gun to the head of a man dressed as Santa Claus in the western province of Aydın as part of a skit decrying the day, there were also a number of media outlets and other campaigns calling for Muslims not to celebrate the day. The state’s religious authority, the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), also issued a Friday sermon that strongly discouraged believers from marking the new year.
Following the massacre, the Diyanet was forced to make a U-turn, saying there was no difference between slaughtering someone in a house of worship or in a night club.
Still, Milat writer Serdar Arseven appeared to defend the massacre in the wake of the killings while appearing on the pro-government Kanal A channel.
“We will stand against New Year’s until the end. Celebrating the new year and drinking alcohol on New Year’s is [sin] until the end. We will fight against this to the end. Whoever does something about this case of affairs and whoever blows this up should do it.”
Arseven subsequently said his comments had been taken out of context and that he would open legal proceedings against those who misintepreted his comments.