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Turkey’s election: Notes on the Second Round

Turkish nationalism, the main determinant of the second round of the Turkish presidential elections, paradoxically eliminated the momentum Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of
The Republican People’s Party, (CHP) had gained before the first round. The racist, xenophobic, and anti-refugee hate speech that replaced progressive and democratizing discourse continues to fuel the extreme right, which has already exploded and poisoned Turkish politics at a cellular level. If Kılıçdaroğlu and the masses supporting him are unaware of this pathology, they will experience a huge shock on the morning of May 29, 2023.

I know you are surprised. You’re asking yourself, “How is it possible for a party that claims to be left-wing and social democratic and its presidential candidate, the party leader, to adopt this nationalist discourse?” However, the truth, which has been hidden from you or rather well camouflaged, stands there plainly and whispers in your ears, looking you in the eye: “CHP has always been like this!” It is a party that produces policies based on the legacy of a single-party rule, which had its roots in nationalism and embraced the idea of an ethnic Turkish nation formulated by the Ittihadist movement.

The foundation of the CHP is built upon this homogenizing and homogenized ethno-nationalism, which fit well into the fascist atmosphere of the 1930s. If Kılıçdaroğlu tries to capitalize on nationalism, it can be traced back even further than the tradition of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). The Six Arrows foundation, nationalism or Atatürk nationalism, is an ideology rooted in the history of the Committee of Union and Progress, an ideology that embraced the ideal of creating a homogeneous nation from a multi-ethnic empire. Therefore, it carries a significant baggage, more extensive than Türkeş, Atsız, Bahçeli, Özdağ, and Oğan. CHP is the real owner of this baggage.

I see people in the CHP base talking about ethno-hatred as if it were something new, and I smile at them from beneath my mustache. The expression of Arab hatred is a manifestation of a complex that manifests itself as an effort to distance oneself from being Middle Eastern. The Ittihadists and Kemalists embraced the myth of migration from Central Asia so that they could create a significant distance between themselves and the Arabs and other Middle Easterners.

Thus, historical facts of 900 years were denied. Sociological and anthropological materials were distorted to construct a discourse in the desired form. Furthermore, the myth of Central Asia was idealized to distance themselves from the Greeks, Armenians, and Slavs. They were able to deceive everyone, but they couldn’t deceive the mirrors. Nevertheless, I must admit – giving them their due – it bore the fruits of brainwashing. It’s not easy to narrate the same fairy tale to people for a hundred years in history lessons.

The era of malignant nation-states ended in the 1940s worldwide. Even the most rigid versions of this ideology, such as social Darwinist Germany and Italy, attempted to construct new types of civic identities based on politically correct values, free from their tainted past. It was not easy to cleanse oneself from Nazism and fascism. It was as challenging as protecting an infected body from microorganisms.

Meanwhile, a similar virus was constantly protected and nurtured in Turkey. Most literate people attempted to legitimize it through the nationalization and secularization of a Muslim society. Thus, the nationalism of the 1930s surpassed the Twentieth Century and emerged as the dominant ideological and identity-defining element of the Twenty-First Century. However, despite the efforts of this colossal state policy to assimilate the Kurds and achieve a homogeneous nation concept, it was not successful. Turkish nationalists who had “survived” the Christians created a country that had been de-Hellenized, de-Armenianized, and de-Syrianized. But their inability to Kurdify the country every decade further intensified and undermined the state unlawfully.

The most significant determinant of the second round is this radicalized nationalism. This nationalism that puts Kılıçdaroğlu in its orbit highlights how Turkish politics is divided into the Turkish front and others (the others). Secular and urban modernists who have been captivated by the idea of getting rid of Erdoğan are hoping that nationalism will serve as a more significant identity-defining capability than Islam. They imagine that they can eliminate the danger of “Arabization and Middle Easternization” by becoming more Nazi-like. The promise of deporting 11 million Syrian refugees and millions of Afghan asylum seekers excites them.

Gaining dominance over an authoritarianized state and using the power ruthlessly against marginalized groups by saving the state from Erdoğan and the “religious conservatives” brings the consequence of not being bothered by Kılıçdaroğlu’s shift to the right. Their approach is quite rational according to Turkey’s political culture. It bears the fruits of a 100-year-long indoctrination. Both hope and despair pass through fascism. Both ends of the onion are immersed in filth. The common point of the options of Erdogan-led and Erdogan-less Turkey is the regime. And this is a dangerous ghost.

And Sinan Oğan announced his support for Erdoğan.

What I have described above shows that it does not have much significance. So don’t be too upset. By the way, strategists who speak in the language of Sinan Oğan and hope that Kılıçdaroğlu will receive more votes: you don’t deserve the salaries you receive! But does it matter? I am sure that you can easily change sides. Although it seems like there are two fronts, these two fronts are not the Nation Alliance and the People’s Alliance. It is Turkish politics and the ten percent Kurdish politics it faces! It has been 100 years since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but the game on Turkey Kurdistan, its last colony, is still ongoing. The united Turkish front, resisting with all its fascist potential against the Kurds who are not as fortunate as the Albanians and Arabs, will be the absolute winner of the elections. In other words, both the Nation Alliance and the People’s Alliance have made anti-Kurdish Turkish nationalism their main election material, just like the supporters of Oğan and Özdağ from the Turkish Nazis. This is a very instructive lesson for Kurdish politics.

Now let’s come to the main issue after the election, which is democratization and the return to the rule of law.

“In short, I predict the following: In the short and medium term, it is not possible for the discourse on “FETÖ” to end in Turkey. Furthermore, similarly, I do not foresee the mass reinstatement of individuals affected by statutory decrees in the short and medium term. In the medium term, some political prisoners may be released as a symbolic gesture. If Kılıçdaroğlu is elected, this possibility increases. If Erdoğan is elected (which is likely to happen), he will use it as a bargaining chip. He will make this move when necessary as a joker in his relations with the West, for example, he may release Kavala or negotiate it. The regime will continue. I have been writing and saying this for years. Although I may be scolded for “demoralizing,” I reminded them that I am not always a motivational coach and that my duty is to provide objective political analysis.

It seems that Turkish politics will not put its house in order without facing a major calamity. In the long run, Turkey does not offer a bright future, especially for sensible and intelligent young people. Those Turks living abroad who do not expect this and at least dream of a normalization that would allow them to spend their vacations in Turkey, I’m sorry to say, it seems unlikely that there will be a holiday opportunity in Turkey this summer or the next.

I will continue with my notes on the second round this week.”

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.


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