New Istanbul mayor says his office is his private space

Istanbul’s newly elected mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said his office in the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality headquarters was his personal space after facing criticism for inviting an imam to perform prayers in his office upon receiving his official confirmation as mayor last week.

İmamoğlu, who has a religious background, was criticised by some who said performing prayers in office space had violated Turkey’s secularist principles. 

“No, this was my personal space,” İmamoğlu said in an interview published on Sözcü daily on Wednesday. 

“The only thing I did was to start my journey with my family, with prayers and this is not the first time I am doing that,” the mayor said, adding that he had performed the same prayer when he took office as the mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikdüzü district in 2014.

Many said on social media that a work office could not be defined as personal space after İmamoğlu’s statement went viral on social media. 

“An office is not private space. I did not think it was against secularism but it was not nice of him saying it was his personal space,” one Twitter user said.

The mayor, who ran a campaign around the theme of “radical love”, also said he had some red lines. “I am sensitive to all social issues, we can discuss, talk about anything. But we cannot discuss the unity of the nation, Turkey’s indivisible integrity. Not even an inch of its soil (can be questioned),” İmamoğlu said.

This is the second time this week İmamoğlu faced heavy criticism from his supporters. On Tuesday, he was denounced for failing to properly commemorate the 26th anniversary of Sivas Massacre, in which a mob of Islamic fundamentalists in 1993 in the eastern province of Sivas burned a hotel where a convention was being held, killing 35 in the hotel and two among the mob.

“What happened on July 2, 1993 in Sivas is a dark stain on the history of humanity and of our country. I commemorate all those who lost their lives in that devastating event,” İmamoğlu said on Twitter.

Many said on social media that İmamoğlu’s message resembled those made by some Islamist and other right-wing politicians who avoid calling the incident a massacre.

“This was not a devastating event like a traffic incident; it was a planned massacre committed with religious intentions,” said Hüseyin Aygün, a former deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Yet, İmamoğlu called the incident a massacre and a crime against humanity later in the day during a commemoration ceremony in Istanbul organised by the Federation of Alevi Cultural Associations. 

“I hope the mentality that led to this massacre will vanish from our country. I hope our country will never experience such an evil act again,” he said.