Turkey’s top religious body a foreign policy tool – Prof Erdi Öztürk

Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has become a leading foreign policy tool of the Turkish government, Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Coventry University, said.

The directorate has turned into a giant religious transnational apparatus in a transformation that is intertwined with developments in Turkish foreign policy, Öztürk told Ahval editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar in new podcast series Turkish Current.

Diyanet has always been a state apparatus used to shape the identity of Turkish citizens, according Öztürk, and recent developments are a manifestation of this.

“Whenever Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or government officials offend LGBT individuals, Diyanet also makes remarks in line with official government discourse, citing religious reasons from the holy book Quran,” he explains.

Under Erdoğan, the Turkish government has also instrumentalized Islam in Turkish foreign policy, according to the academic.

Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has quadrupled Diyanet’s budget during its 18 years in power, sparking criticism that the organisation is being used by the Islamist AKP as a vehicle for soft power. 

Critics accuse the country’s imams, all of whom work for the religious body, of pushing the government’s political rhetoric and creating social division.

Citing Baskin Oran, a prominent Turkish academic, Öztürk said that the traditional foreign affairs establishment of Turkey has been replaced by Diyanet, which is now represents the face of new Turkey.

Diyanet’s imams have social and normative power among the Turkish Muslims in diaspora, he added.

The directorate runs all 85,000 mosques in Turkey, as well as 2,000 abroad.