Rows of children inside a mosque chant in unison and perform the military salute in front of images of the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini. This would not be an unusual sight in Tehran, but it is in Turkey. It is a commemoration event celebrating the image of the leader and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, organised at a mosque in Istanbul and causing particular controversy in the country.
The images have made the rounds on the internet, recorded by the organisation and distributed to various Iranian media, including Tasnim News. According to local media, the ceremony was allegedly organised by two Shiite clerics, of Turkish and Iranian nationality. In addition to involving minors in a sort of show of force with military gestures, the event was also reportedly attended by a speaker imprisoned for having been found guilty of spying on behalf of the Quds Forces, the intelligence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
According to the specialist news portal Nordic Monitor, the ceremony took place at the Imam Zin al-Abedin mosque in the Bagciar district of Istanbul. The event, which aimed to praise the Iranian leader, was reportedly organised by the pro-Iranian association Ehl-i Beyt, together with a platform of Shiite clerics called Hatt-Imam.
Burası İstanbul! Onlarca küçük çocuk, Bağcılar'da bulunan camide "Selam Komutan" adlı marşı okuyarak Hamaney ve Humeyni'nin posteri önünde asker selamı verdi!— Aykırı (@aykiricomtr) June 6, 2022
According to Levent Kenez, a Turkish journalist based in Sweden, Iranian media do not usually boast about pro-Iranian events held outside the country, as they often have a negative reputational impact. This time, however, the images have been distributed and Turkish society has picked up on what happened.
Nordic Monitor questions how little control the Turkish government can exert over the country's mosques. The state apparatus has a General Directorate of Religious Affairs that oversees activity in the mosques. However, there does not seem to have been any kind of response from the Turkish government regarding this celebration.
The event was attended as a speaker by Nureddin Sirin, close to radical Turkish Islamists, who is now the head of news at the pro-Iranian Kudüs TV, known for his controversial TV statements in which he said that Jews and rabbis did not deserve to feel safe in Turkey. He was also indicted by the Turkish judiciary in 2011 for being part of an espionage network connected to the Quds Forces that had managed to penetrate Turkish institutions. According to Nordic Monitor, the same prosecution investigation revealed connections between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. In 2014 the investigation came to a complete halt.
This prosecution investigation came before 2016, when the Turkish judiciary was severely affected by the authoritarian turn of Erdogan's government, which made the judiciary a tool of control through purges among the magistrates.
According to Nordic Monitor, Nureddin Sirin also allegedly claimed that a leader of the Quds Forces, Qasem Soleimani, was Erdogan's main supporter during the coup in the summer of 2016. According to Sirin's statements, no one did more for Erdogan during the coup than this member of Iranian military intelligence. These claims would establish a second direct connection between President Erdogan and the Quds Forces, according to the online media Nordic Monitor.