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Why Erdogan fired Turkey’s top cleric

The departure of Mehmet Gormez, who headed Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), had many wondering if he was not loyal enough to the Turkish president.
Mehmet Gormez, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, addresses the media in Ankara January 8, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION) - RTR4KMRF

On June 31, Mehmet Gormez, a Turkish cleric who headed the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a government department that runs more than 85,000 mosques, bid farewell to his post he had occupied since 2010. Gormez’s term didn’t end until 2020, which is why his early departure triggered a heated discussion in the media and on social media. As with most other changes in the state bureaucracy, many people believed that the departure of the erudite theologian had something to do with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to single-handedly build a “New Turkey."

A few facts about the Diyanet: It is a government body whose budget exceeds many key government ministries, such as the Foreign Ministry, and whose influence over society is significant. Created back in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s time (1923-1938) as a key institution of the Turkish Republic, the Diyanet has always controlled all mosques in Turkey, paying the salaries of the imams and also supervising the content of their sermons. Since the 1960s, its influence even spread to Europe, as it opened hundreds of mosques in countries like Germany with substantial Turkish immigrant communities.

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