The messages, called mahyas, in fact reflect the traditional aspect of Ramadan since they are strung between the minarets of mosques only during the holy month to give glad tidings of the arrival of those blessed days. But they were lit on Monday and Tuesday with the intention of “boasting Turkishness” and “expressing confidence in the Turkish military.”Analysts, however, interpreted the move as an attempt to “provoke” as the messages ignored the existence of other ethnicities in the country and came as a show of military power. Among the messages were: “We owe our gratitude to the army,” “How happy is he who calls himself a Turk,” “The country comes first” and “National unity is a must.”

The messages drew the indignation of civil groups, which held demonstrations in the streets of İstanbul yesterday. Rıdvan Kaya, the chairman of the Freedom Association (Özgür-Der), termed the nationalist messages in mahyas a source of “ugliness” and “provocation.”

Five of İstanbul’s historic mosques were bedecked with mahyas that included nationalist messages. Analysts interpreted the move as an attempt to ‘provoke’ as the messages ignored the existence of other ethnicities in the country and appeared to be a show of military power

“We want authorities to reveal who led to such ugliness. Are they still not aware that such moves aim to drag Turkey into an atmosphere of war? While the government is exerting efforts to settle the Kurdish issue, some are attempting to provoke the people,” Kaya said.

The Turkish government, pioneered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has lately been in search of a solution for Turkey’s chronic problems through a comprehensive democratization package. With the package, the governing party wishes to solve the decades-old Kurdish question, an aspiration which opposition parties have reacted harshly to. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have accused the ruling party of “engaging in projects aimed at dividing the country.” The CHP and the MHP also accuse the AK Party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and other officials of “high treason.”No body or institution has yet claimed responsibility for the controversial mahyas. Today’s Zaman asked the Directorate of Religious Affairs about the move, but directorate officials denied responsibility. “We are in control of the mosques, but they are owned by the General Directorate of Foundations. The Directorate of Religious Affairs is fully outside of this mahya issue,” they said.The General Directorate of Foundations, however, pointed to the Regional Directorate of Foundations in İstanbul and the İstanbul Governor’s Office as responsible bodies in the determination of messages spelled out on mahyas.The director of press and public relations of İstanbul Governor’s Office, Nazır Şentürk, said İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler would call a press conference on the mahya controversy. No press conference was called by the time Today’s Zaman went to print. The mahyas were spelled out on the occasion of the anniversary of the liberation of İstanbul from occupation by foreign powers following the War of Independence.An AK Party official who wanted to remain anonymous said the messages between the minarets of İstanbul’s five historic mosques — Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) Camii, Eyüp Sultan Camii, Selimiye Camii, Yeni Camii and Yeni Valide Sultan Camii — boosted concerns over anti-initiative attempts.“We don’t want to make a statement until it is revealed who ordered the messages on the mahyas. Mahyas are used to convey religious messages. They carry messages out of Quranic verses or sayings of the Prophet [Muhammad]. These messages were, however, not related to religion. This is wrong. The fact that no body or institution has so far claimed responsibility for these mahyas shows that everyone is disturbed by them,” the AK Party official noted.Akın Birdal, a pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputy, called the mahyas a “display of resistance by the status quo” and urged the government to go ahead with its democratization process.“The process has already kicked off. If the government displays a strong will to complete the process, then no one will dare hinder it. There will also be pro-status quo circles which stand against this process. What is important is the political will, determination and courage to complete the democratization process,” Birdal said. He also called for an investigation into who is responsible for the nationalist mahyas.Officials from the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) said it was out of character to see military slogans hung as messages between minarets. “Such messages contradict the universality of Islam. Mosques do not belong to any nationality or ethnic group, nor are prayers at mosques restricted to one nationality or another or to one ethnicity or another. Nationalist messages in mahyas have drawn the ire of the society,” they said.

Evocative of single-party period

The content of nationalist mahyas was highly evocative of messages spelled out between minarets throughout Turkey during the period when Turkey was under the control of a single party, the CHP.Mahyas of those times were generally politics-related and primarily dedicated to politicians. Among the examples were “Atatürk,” “Long live İnönü,” and “Happy 20th Anniversary of the Republic.” They also included advice to the population to save money, use Turkish-made goods and make donations to the Red Crescent.Analysts also said the nationalist messages in Tuesday’s mahyas brought back memories of banners placed on every corner of İstanbul after the Feb. 28, 1997, unarmed military coup. Now-retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who played a major role in the coup, ordered security forces to bedeck İstanbul streets with banners that read, “Loyalty to our army is a source of honor.” The banners worked as an instrument of intimidation against those who objected to the idea of military coups in politics.Turkey has as of late been witnessing attempts believed to be aiming to increase public anger against the government’s Kurdish initiative. A group of soccer fans unfurled banners that read, “Happy is he who says I am a Turk,” during a match between Bursaspor and Diyarbakırspor in late September and accused Diyarbakırspor supporters of backing a terrorist organization and calling on them to leave the country. Analysts argued that the tension came as the latest example of “provocation” and said the nationalist feelings of soccer lovers were abused by political figures who stand against the Kurdish initiative.<>