In our part of the world, water is among the first words a child will utter –pronunciations aside. “Maji” is the name; but many small children, irrespective of their dialect backgrounds, will demand “Mma”. This is from the perspective of a natural drive to quench thirst. Water particulars such as the hydrogen and oxygen atom ratio are non-issues. But later in life as grownups, the same children will also demand to know whether that water is clean, safe and even the temperature. This is where African indigenous knowledge rightly observes: “Amaizi tigebwa wabombeho”, whose literal contextual translation boils down to the fact that up to whatever high temperature it is boiled, “water will never forget its cold origins.”
This phenomenon came to my mind in the course of trailing facts behind developments unfolding as Turkey heads towards the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The people of Turkey, just like any others, need a president. In the present circumstances, they are actually ‘very thirsty’ for one. But which one? Is it right for them to go to the polls in a way similar to the African small child’s demand for “Mma”? No. And God forbid. It is not enough for them either to just know the names on the list of presidential candidates. It is paramount to better understand who those people are.
For good or bad, Erdogan has been on many lips during his two decades’ rule. His, is a household name. But what sort of person/character of a ruler has he developed into today? Is he the character suitable for being re-elected? Or has he lost the presidential material properties? That is the question. With a little margin of error, I would say, not bet, that the more Turkey polls close in, Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) moves, strategies or tactics send critically thinking people cracking their heads.
Erdogan’s roots can be traced in the Islamist Milli Gorus Movement (National Vision) — the religious political movement inspired by former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and which was oppressed by right-wing extremists and Kemalists. When he took office in 2003, he declared that he had “taken off the Milli Gorus shirt”. He went on to align with the European Union (EU) system, translating into toeing the line of the EU strain of democracy development. But this was short lived. Eight years later in 2011, he back peddled, appointing core Islamists to AKP Party and government jobs and allocating state resources to corrupt party members with apparent outcomes.
In the absence of his own loyalists, Erdogan had to fall back on the right-wing coalition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), thus taking on board members of the Grey Wolves and risking having relations with people like Mafia boss Alaaddin Cakici. Believed to have finger-and-ring like ties with the Grey Wolves, Cakici is also taken for having been responsible for at least 41 political murders. In 2004 he was sentenced to 19 years for, among others, having plucked enough courage of having his wife murdered in front of their son. What a character and Erdogan ally.
He was released on what can be called pseudo Coronavirus amnesty, under which Erdogan hid his ill motive of retaining his innocent enemies like members of the Hizmet Movement to die in congested prisons and open gates for the real criminals. Cakici was, therefore, able to reconnect with same-politics DNA Devlet Bahceli of the extremist Nationalist Movement Party. He has had even chance to threaten main opposition (CHP) party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, with a “watch your foot” message. Kilicdaroglu is challenging Erdogan in the upcoming polls as a presidential candidate. To quote Turkish fellow journalist Can Dundar, “Bahceli has taken the most powerful man in Turkey as his hostage… Erdogan carries the drum, but Bahceli pounds out the beat.”
Hardly 50 days to the polls day, the latest on Presidential candidate Erdogan is having struck an alliance with the Free Cause Party (HUDA-PAR), a radical Islamist party to which some refer as “Turkey’s ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”. The alliance has shocked many. HUDA-PAR is an Islamist Kurdish party that has roots in Hizbullah, a violent group that waged a bloody war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its sympathizers in the 1990s. What else can this illustrate other than proving Erdogan’s growing Islamic radicalism? Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Engin Altay says this “signals the resurgence of his (Erdogan’s) true face and anti-republican sentiments.” Chairman of the Memleket (Homeland) Party Muharrem Ince has cautioned that HUDA-PAR is a political wing of Turkish Hizbullah, the armed group responsible for assassinating Diyarbakir’s police chief Gaffar Okkan in 2001. Selahattin Demirtas, former member of parliament and co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) currently in jail since 2016, says for certain the alliance “is not love for (the) country.”
Erdogan began his political career as head of a local youth branch of Erbakan’s Islamist National Salvation Party in 1976. While at school, he already had traces of an advocator for the cause of political Islam. It was when he was an undergraduate that he met veteran Islamist politician Necmettin Erbakan. He was Istanbul’s mayor under Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) between 1994 and 1998. In 2001, Erdogan along with Abdullah Gul and Bulent Arinc, reformists from the Milli Corus movement, formed the AKP – the party he has now managed to put under his firm grip and create a one-man rule for Turkey in the process.
Literally, Erdogan has made a 180-degree political U-turn from a radical Islamist youth to a short-time EU-strain of democracy pursuer and back to extremism. In 2003 he declared having “put off the (Islamist) Milli Gorus shirt. Twenty years down his rule, he is walking in the movement’s shoes instead. Could he feel comfortable enough walking to the upcoming polls ‘topless’ but in Milli Gorus shoes? It’s doubtful. What sort of comfort would that be for anyone seeking re-election as a head of state? But the Africa indigenous knowledge remains intact. Like water, an extreme Islamist can be ‘boiled’ to whatever high ‘democracy’ temperature. But left alone, that person will never forget his/her origins.