On the afternoon of May 20th, the Italian partisan song ‘Bella Ciao’ was playing from multiple mosques in the Izmir province during the time of the afternoon adhan (call to prayer). Many reacted shocked, and soon the news could be found on every media platform. Taking place in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the incident was considered especially provocative. Politicians and officials jumped on the incident to reclaim the narrative. 


As reports came out about the highly unusual adhan, the Izmir provincial religious directorate initially denied the incident. Video evidence, however, led them to make a statement later that night: “According to our initial analysis, unidentified people sabotaged our central call to prayer system in an illegal way.”

The İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the hacked call to prayer system on the grounds of "publicly degrading religious values." A day later it was announced that a suspect was detained, but that same night another call to prayer broadcast was hacked, this time by playing ‘Yuh yuh’ by Selda Bağcan.

The Director of Religious Affairs Prof. Dr. Erbaş called it a “dirty assault against mosques” and implied over the weekend that the incident might be a ‘terrorist act’. When it comes to finding the guilty party, there is no need to look for a criminal mastermind according to Turkey Radio Amateurs Association Chair Aziz Şasa. In an interview with Sputnik he explained that it is possible for anyone with a radio system to be able to infiltrate the mosques’ frequency.


Government ally MHP Chair Devlet Bahçeli commented: "The reasoning behind this dishonorable action should be researched very well and will reveal dark ambitions." As Izmir is a CHP Metropolitan Municipality, President & AKP Chair Erdogan linked the two with ease, stating: “CHP officials enjoy this. Their dream is to hear another voice coming from the minarets of the mosque other than call to prayer. (...) This country has experienced many crises suffered by coup cravers. CHP has always been behind them.” Minister of Interior Affairs Süleyman Soylu assured that this will be made right. “We will make those responsible listen to the call for prayer at the bottom of the mosque," he said, implying a painful punishment. CHP members also stated to have taken offense by the incident. Izmir Metropolitan Mayor Tunç Soyer spoke: "I condemn those who created this provocation, which we will never accept, and condemn those who connect the name of our beautiful Izmir with this event."


CHP's former İzmir local deputy chair Banu Özdemir was detained on Friday, May 22, for sharing videos of the mosques playing ‘Bella Ciao’ on her social media. Being both affiliated with CHP and sharing the images, she possibly seemed like the perfect scapegoat to take the fall for the incident. As CHP’s Muharrem Ince said in defense of Özdemir: “They have not found the responsible person yet, they have not renewed the system in order to avoid these disgraces, but Banu Özdemir was arrested for sharing the image from news sites and was targeted by trolls.” The official statement for Özdemir’s arrest claimed: Banu Ö (...) was detained on charges of "publicly degrading religious values​​" under Article 216/3 of the Turkish Criminal Code. Özdemir shared her experience with the law: “I was detained at the police station where I came by myself. I spent the night in custody. The cops were kind. They did not give me a hard time as they were aware of the absurdity of the situation. She continued: “The police also asked where I was at the time. As seen online, I shared the images two hours after [the incident] happened. Unfortunately, the prosecutor did not take this into consideration. Then he asked for my arrest without even taking my statement.” A judge eventually decided not to arrest Özdemir on the grounds of “societal reactions." The tag #BanuÖzdemirYalnızDeğildir ('Banu Özdemir is not alone') had been trending on social media. Özdemir’s lawyer Süleyman Karadağ spoke of the political significance of her former position: "The issue is that Banu Özdemir is a member of the CHP Izmir former provincial board of directors."


It is however not that unusual for mosques to spread messages other than the adhan. One of the most memorable events during the attempted coup in 2016 was for example the call from minarets to take to the streets for people to defend their democratic rights. Directions for mosques to do so came from the Directorate of Religious Affairs. The poem Erdogan recited in 1999 seemed to have come to fruition: “Our minarets are our bayonets.” It is no longer uncommon in Turkey, officially a secular republic, for the government’s wishes to be broadcasted through what is in essence a religious medium. ‘Bella Ciao’ was not only an act of blasphemy, but also the infiltrating of a pro-government platform.


The Italian song is of importance as it was used by partisans during the Italian Resistance during Word War II. It has since become an international anti-fascist anthem, and can also be heard in Turkey as a means of protest, like on 1 May International Workers’ Day and other days of social reaction. It is thus seen as inherently anti-government. In 2018, a teacher in Ankara was fired for whistling it around children.