A mob chanting, “there is no god but Allah,” attacked three young Turkish citizens on Monday at a shopping mall after they unfurled a banner reading, “Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” and protested Islamic State attacks on the Eurasian country.
The incident occurred in Serdivan Shopping Mall, a mall located in the Black Sea province of Sakarya in Turkey. The protesters unraveled their banner — which also had a list of terror attacks on it: “Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, İzmir, Reina” — and chanted pro-secularist, anti-Islamist slogans. The group identified itself with the chant, “We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal” and also on the banner itself, which had the name of the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on it.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and its first president, established the country as a secular state in 1923. He remains widely revered among Turks, particularly those who oppose the Islamization of the country’s political structure.
Video of the Sakarya incident shows a mob attacking the young protesters in question, chanting, “la ilaha illallah”: “there is no god but Allah,” the first line of the Shahada, or Islamic profession of faith. Hurriyet notes that the protesters were detained and taken to a police station for questioning; it is unclear whether the attackers received the same treatment.
The incident echoes a similar such occurrence shortly following the New Year’s Eve Islamic State attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, which left dozens dead. Following that attack, a meeting of members of a Halkevleri (“People’s Houses”), a Kemalist social assembly, called for furthering secularism in the country to prevent such acts of terrorism.
“Secularism means freedom, brotherhood and struggling for a humane life. We are calling on everyone to be soldiers of this struggle. We are calling on you to bring fascists and lovers of the presidential system to account,” Halkevleri member Ergin Çevik said at the event.
Police arrested Ayşegül Başar, an intern at the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet, for being visible in an online video of this speech behind Çevik.
A shooter now identified as Uzbek national Abdulkadir Masharipov entered Reina nightclub on the night of December 31 and shot deliberately at clubgoers, leaving 39 dead. Authorities say he appeared to have been part of a sophisticated terrorist cell and video footage showing his execution of club patrons appears to indicate he was highly trained in such attacks. The Islamic State took credit for the attack and Masharipov remains at large.
Secularists have increased their protests against Islamism in light of this attack in part because it was preceded by Turkish official religious affairs agency, the Diyanet, calling all New Year celebrations “illicit” violations of Islam. “It is never suitable to a believer [Muslim], forgetting himself and his aim of creation […], to exhibit illicit manners and behaviors that don’t comply with our values and don’t contribute to human life,” a Diyanet member warned on December 30.
The Diyanet makes this warning every year, however. “The hours that we should be doing an account of our past times, unfortunately, are wasted every year with mistakes,” the Diyanet warned in 2015.
The Islamic State statement taking credit for the Reina attack echoes this attitude towards the celebrations, calling New Year’s Eve a “polytheistic holiday.”