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HomeHeadlineÖzgür Özel's Strategic Engagements: Navigating Political Alliances and Media Relations in Turkey

Özgür Özel’s Strategic Engagements: Navigating Political Alliances and Media Relations in Turkey

M. Ahmet Karabay

When his party emerged victorious in the May 31 elections, all spotlights turned to CHP Chairman Özgür Özel. Initially, Özel was criticized for his meetings with President Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. Now, there is also backlash over his meeting with Taha Hüseyin Karagöz, the new star of the Islamist media. However, the situation is quite different.

Özgür Özel took over the helm of CHP on November 5, 2023. Just like during his tenure as the CHP Deputy Group Chair, who he met with and what was discussed were hardly questioned or criticized until the March 31 elections. Although CHP was not the leading party in local elections, emerging as the leading party through an alliance changed the scenario significantly. Every move he makes and every word he says is now rightfully scrutinized. All spotlights are currently on him.

He first expressed his desire to meet with President Erdoğan. This request was a lifeline for Erdoğan, who wanted to remain in the Beştepe Palace without early elections being brought up. The response from the other side was positive, and the parties met at the AK Party Headquarters on May 2.

This meeting was heavily criticized, and I criticized it as well. My critique was not about the meeting itself, but about how Erdoğan received Özel in a scenario reminiscent of the “low chair crisis” with Israel in 2010, and how Erdoğan extended credit without demonstrating adherence to the constitution. I said that Özel’s first action should have been to give Erdoğan a chance to show compliance with the constitution.

I raised objections not just to the meeting of two party leaders at AK Party Headquarters, but to the nature of the meeting between the President and the leader of the main opposition party. I also talked about the risks of Özel lowering his guard to Erdoğan after the meeting.

‘SMEETING WITH BAHÇELI’ SUGGESTION TO ÖZEL

After Erdoğan, Özel also met with MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. Bahçeli’s typical bluster before the appointment diminished the already minimal importance of the meeting.

Following Bahçeli’s statements, there were significant figures on the left who suggested that Özel should cancel the meeting. Despite criticisms, the meeting between the leaders of CHP and MHP took place. Özel continued on his path, setting his own agenda.

ÖZGÜR ÖZEL’S MEETING WITH TAHA HÜSEYIN KARAGÖZ

Meanwhile, a development overshadowed Özel’s meeting with Bahçeli. It was understood that the meeting, which took place in the office of the CHP leader in Parliament, involved a party leader hosting a journalist from the opposing camp.

Özel’s meeting with Yeni Şafak reporter Taha Hüseyin Karagöz overshadowed his meeting with Bahçeli. Since becoming the party leader, Özel has received the heaviest and most intense criticism from his own camp due to this meeting with the journalist.

The criticism came not from the opposing camp, but from Özel’s own supporters. The criticism reached the extent of declaring apostasy, a concept in Muslim literature.

However, some of the accusations from Özel’s camp against the Yeni Şafak reporter are true, while a significant portion is unfounded. The pro-CHP faction attributes expressions containing heavy insults towards Atatürk, which appeared in Akit, to Karagöz. Karagöz has never worked at Akit in his life. The mentioned website quoted a news item Karagöz prepared during his time at Ülkehaber under Kanal 7, discussing with Ahmet Akgündüz, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Ottoman Research Foundation, and presented it with a cunning headline.

Karagöz is accused of preparing this offensive news, but he has never worked at Akit where it was published in that form. In his own prepared news, there is no element of insult.

Is Taha Hüseyin Karagöz innocent?

I am not saying that at all. But if the biggest criticism you make has no basis, then the other criticisms you make also lose their value or credibility.

Here’s a small bundle for those who want to see a collection of the ugly and slanderous news and posts made by Karagöz:

A post claiming that terrorists from PKK’s mountain cadre are working in İBB is his own.

In December 2022, he targeted the news about Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, founder of the Hiranur Foundation associated with the İsmailağa Community, ‘marrying’ his six-year-old daughter.

On February 6, he claimed that no one from Haluk Levent’s AHBAP organization was on the ground during the earthquake.

In October 2022, Karagöz shared a photo from CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s visit to Tokat, drawing attention to the ‘faces’ in it.

Supporters of CHP, claiming Özel’s hosting of Karagöz in his office represents a “posture disorder,” have directed severe criticism at Özel through Taha Hüseyin Karagöz.

LEGAL RELATIONSHIP EXPLAINED BY ÖZEL

The details behind the meeting with Yeni Şafak reporter Karagöz were shared by both parties with the public. There is no conflicting picture in the statements of both sides.

The sincere approach between the parties began with Karagöz inviting Özgür Özel to his “Tough Questions” program on TV Net. Özel, then the CHP Deputy Group Chairman, shared the program on his social media before it aired on April 6, 2022.

During a program hosted by Fevzi Çakır and Esra Toptaş on Habertürk, Özel was asked about his meeting with Karagöz. Özel stated that the meeting was not a casual drop-by but was scheduled.

DOING WHAT ERDOĞAN ONCE DID

Özgür Özel is doing something similar to what the AK Party did after winning the 2002 elections and Tayyip Erdoğan becoming prime minister. In the early days of his power, Erdoğan stayed away from giving exclusive interviews to his own media.

Moreover, he distanced himself from journalists he had been seen arm-in-arm with before November 3. This distancing did not last just a few months; it continued for years. The criticisms from Erdoğan’s own camp back then were almost identical to those directed at Özel today. It was said that Erdoğan gave preference to those who spoke and wrote against him, not those who supported him.

Erdoğan took members of the “other media” with him on international trips, carefully avoiding being in close frames with his own supporters. As he gained strength and saw his footing become firmer, he changed this practice. What followed was today’s media approach.

The method of criticism by the left-wing is quite different from that of the Islamist camp. The left chooses to criticize openly. In the Islamist camp, where allegiance is paramount, criticism is considered a form of sedition. Therefore, criticism can only be made at the level of gossip.

The dialogues Özgür Özel establishes with different sections are important. It is important that meetings with politicians are conducted within the framework of protocol. In other meetings, sincerity should be sought.

Just as pro-government trolls undermine AK Party and Erdoğan, leftists with their troll attacks prevent CHP from advancing.

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