Picture this: A group of well-mannered, middle-aged men and women are traveling to the picturesque Aegean town of Ayvalik as the mosque’s loudspeakers announce, “Strangers have entered our village, do not open your doors.” Members of the secular nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ataturkist Thought Association experienced this April 4 as they approached the town to talk to the residents about the upcoming referendum. They were the ones the imam called strangers. Ahmet Uzgec, the head of the NGO, told the media that there is quite a bit of confusion among citizens. Some elderly were told that if the April 16 referendum on providing greater powers to the Turkish presidency does not pass, their retirement funds will be cut off, along with the government aid provided for the disabled.
The event in Ayvalik, where advocates of the NGO were shunned by the imam, was not an isolated incident. Not many can dispute that the mosques have become campaign centers for Erdogan’s referendum. Indeed, there are several examples, some of which were documented by opposition media outlets.