Uncommon at a mosque in Istanbul, young children sang military songs at a ceremony commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the death of Iran’s Islamic revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Attended by Turkish and Iranian Shiite clerics, the ceremony also hosted a controversial speaker who was previously imprisoned for being an Iranian operative.
At the ceremony held on Sunday at the Imam Zin al-Abedin Mosque in İstanbul’s Bağcıar district and organized by the pro-Iranian Ehl-i Beyt Scholars Association (EHLADER) and the Hatt-ı İmam Platform, segregated boys and girls in uniforms sang the epic anthem “Salaam Fermandeh” (Commander), which was written for Khomeini, in Turkish and Farsi.
A video of the children saluting during the anthem was interestingly distributed by the Tasnim news agency, which is associated with the Iranian regime. Media organizations affiliated with the Iranian state do not usually report on events organized by Shiites in Turkey in order not to attract negative reactions from the public.
Photos of Khomeini and Iranian supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei were hung in the mosque for the ceremony. In Turkey, which consists of mostly Sunni Muslims, it is strictly prohibited to hang photographs in mosques.
Members of the Turkish ruling party recently held several political meetings in the mosque, arousing the ire of many. However, children had never before been seen singing military songs under pictures of Iranian leaders. The Zin al-Abedin Mosque is one of 40 Shiite mosques in Istanbul. The overwhelming majority of mosques in Turkey are under the control and supervision of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).
One of the speakers at the ceremony was Nureddin Şirin, well known by radical Islamists in Turkey. Şirin, now the editor-in-chief of the pro-Iranian Kudüs TV, was one of the suspects in an investigation called Tevhid Selam, which was launched by Turkish prosecutors in 2011, uncovered a sophisticated espionage network run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey and exposed the depth and extent of infiltration of Turkish institutions by Iranian elements.
The investigation also revealed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ties to IRGC generals and how Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish Intelligence, played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran and worked with the Iranian regime. However, many investigators in the police department and members of the judiciary were jailed in 2014 for running the confidential investigation into the Quds Force. Most of them were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2020.
Interestingly the police investigation had started after Şirin said at a meeting in 2010 that Jews and rabbis in particular did not deserve to be safe in Turkey. Şirin had previously been imprisoned for membership in a terrorist organization and committing a terrorist act on behalf of Iran and was released in 2005 after his sentence was reduced by the ruling party.
Şirin in 2020 surprisingly claimed that Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force who was killed in a US strike on January 3, 2020, was instrumental in defeating an attempted coup against Erdoğan on July 15, 2016.
“Soleimani did more than anyone else to disrupt the coup attempt. President Erdoğan knows what Soleimani did for Turkey on July 15,” Şirin said on a TV program a few days after Soleimani’s assassination.
It is still unknown what an Iranian general who ran a controversial military unit operating outside of Turkey did for Erdoğan.
Some critics claim that a number of the civilians who were killed on the night of the coup attempt were not shot by the putschists. It was revealed that ammunition used on July 15 did not belong to the Turkish military, raising questions about the real masterminds behind the murders. In addition, angry mobs that lynched several military cadets on the Bosporus Bridge were never investigated.
More interesting is that a government decree published on December 24, 2017 stated that regardless of the person’s official title, individuals who acted “within the context of suppressing the July 15 coup attempt, terrorist acts or acts transpiring as a follow-up to any of these do not bear any legal, administrative or penal responsibility.”