IZMIR, Turkey — Residents in several districts in the Turkish city of Izmir could hardly believe their ears as "Bella Ciao," the Italian protest song that is akin to a leftist anthem in Turkey, soared from the minarets of mosques instead of the call for prayer on the afternoon of May 20. Hackers had broken into the sound system of several mosques, which are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to broadcast the song, which expresses solidarity with workers and is often sung at protests in Turkey and beyond.
Some might have found the incident amusing, but it is no joke in a country where political polarization is running deep between the conservative and the secular. As videos of "Bella Ciao" blaring from minarets went viral on social media, pro-governmental newspapers seethed with outrage. Sabah trumpeted a “scandal in Izmir,” while Star labeled the hacking as “a heinous provocation.” In the next 24 hours, hackers broke into the systems of two more mosques, this time broadcasting the songs of Turkish protest singer Selda Bagcan. In a hasty statement, the local religious authorities announced that they have deactivated the centralized sound system in mosques.