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Navigating Shifts: The Emerging Dynamics in Turkish Politics

Murat Belge*

Since the recent local elections, I’ve had the feeling that I’m stepping on a different ground; do you feel something similar? There’s nothing “happened” yet, no significant changes; but the possibilities for “changeability” have increased. In this atmosphere, there are changing attitudes within the CHP under Özgür Özel’s leadership. I find these changes positive. I see the potential for “change” primarily here. As I wrote the other day, it seems a stance I have long defended is being adopted.

However, in the meantime, a protest came from Kılıçdaroğlu: “With this government, there can be no ‘negotiation’, only ‘struggle’,” he said. Is this assessment wrong? In my opinion, it is not. Again, Özgür Özel, in my view, made a smart observation: “It’s not softening, it’s normalization.”

This is the stance that I believe (and have believed) the voter segment, which has managed to remain sensible in our turbulent political climate for years, longs for.

I have always argued that the “left” in this country should adopt a non-hostile stance towards Islamist politics. I have written my reasons for this stance, and I will write them again and again. Because I think this way, I believe the choice CHP is now making is correct. However, there is not just one type of “Islamist politics.” Here is Tayyip Erdoğan, here are his choices… Aren’t these a style of Islamist politics? For example, what does it mean to reduce interest rates citing the “nass”?

This is one example of Islamist politics. Then what is Ali Babacan with his worldview and political stance, if not Islamist? What is Abdullah Gül, if not Islamist? We could name many more. The owners of these names also embrace a form of “Islamist politics.” The Islamist politics they embrace does not closely align with Tayyip Erdoğan’s approach.

In fact, the early years of Tayyip Erdoğan’s power and the post-Gezi Tayyip Erdoğan stand as proof that there are multiple Islamist politics. For instance, he was the first to sign the Istanbul Convention; he is also the one who now says “I do not recognize it” and currently engages in unjust criticism about this convention. It would be possible to write an “Erdoğan Guide” about such transformations.

But do not expect, nor should we expect, a turn towards democracy from him now because of these transformations. In his early years in power, Erdoğan had taken on a “role,” which he was playing. Now, for reasons we need not get into here, he believes this role has come to an end. Believing this, he sees no need to extend it and has returned to his true identity. For over a decade now, “The Real Tayyip Erdoğan” stands before us! If we expect such a turnaround from Tayyip Erdoğan, we will wait a long time.

Could he make some gestures of this kind? He could. But not to progress towards democratization, rather to continue his rule. As long as he is successful in continuing his rule, he will undermine democracy and those working for democracy. From this perspective, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is right: the relationship to be established with Erdoğan is indeed a “struggle.” But Özgür Özel also says something correct: a goal of normalization should be set and maintained. This is also important to show the electorate that has voted for the AKP until now that Islamist politics and Tayyip Erdoğan’s politics are not the same thing.

In my view, Tayyip Erdoğan is depleted. But I say this within a “historical” framework. The weapons he used that “ultimately destroy himself” have brought him to this point (were bound to). I do not know when this depletion will produce concrete results on a chronological level. The main factor here depends on what kind of “remedies” Tayyip Erdoğan can come up with to keep his power. We should not underestimate his will to hold onto power. He has advantages, and doubt not that he will use them to the fullest.


*Prof. Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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