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Umit Ozdag and Rise of Neo Nationalism in Turkey

Turkey is an island of diverse political leanings and society swinging in between. If metaphor is well asserted, it is like saw and see. Nothing is new, if there is any, would be disguised under the old facets.

Turkey’s political ideology is an old mask that can fit in many new faces. As long as the landscape, political activism, party oriented and connections alive, the Turkish society will be reshaped with new political identities that make Turkey different from Middle Eastern countries. Society brewed in deep dark political discourses in every avenue of life, not a single day passing by without discussing a political motivated news or ideas. Turkish society is sharply divided, and politically polarized ever in the Turkish political history. It is like a fight of ideologies concurrently and constantly occurring with its all constellations flashing out in and hovering over the society, not only population exhausted under the heavy burden of economic pain but also worn down by ideological and religiously driven political discussion. While Turkey is expected to get rid of the 20 years of ideology which is coined as an Islamist conservatism, nationalism takes a sharp turn arriving in the town.

The major political party in Turkish Grand Assembly, Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, current president of Turkey defines themselves as conservative, traditionalist, pursues Islamic nationalism to connect Sunni Islam in the world. The parliament has nationalism rhetoric’s or discourse in their political symbols, agenda, or statements.

It is against western allies, or outsiders, independent to diminish western dominance holds similarities with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) led by Devlet Bahceli, also in coalition with AKP a far-right nationalist party, pursues of pan Turkism, connecting with Turkic states, against NATO and United States without religious discourse although promotes Turk-Islam sentiment and hostile to Kurdish political parties and autonomous formations. Republic People’s Party (CHP) is the opposition party with secular, center left follow Mustafa Kemal Ataturk principals that held Turkish nationals superior to other ethnic nationalism. CHP has transformed to be more moderate toward religious society.

Democratic people’s Party (HDP) is the only minority based formed party with large Kurdish constituents in the parliament, as it obtains its votes from Southeast of Turkey, it is considered a Kurdish political party that has also ethnic political rhetoric in political discourses, in recent years, HDP attracts liberal minds as well. IYI party as translated Good Party (IP) is nationalist, conservative party that was founded on the similar principles of JDP, MHP and even CHP. Party was formed by former Interior ministry led by Meral Aksener, only female political party leader and by other unwanted and dissidents’ lawmakers of MHP.

In brief flashback, nationalism during Ottoman Empire which was considered to disturb Ottomans carried out by ethnic minorities who were against the central government, later in years coming, Nationalism isolated other nationals in forming new nation state, eliminating other nationals to create a country based on single pure race which was Turkish. Unlike above-mentioned nationalism, this new nationalism is anti-immigration, nativist, and unfriendly to others. No doubt that there is a new wave of nationalism, which I call it neo -nationalism. It doesn’t glorify Turkish people, nor hold the Turkishness superior to others as experienced during the previous government especially when the republic, nation states were being constructing however, the new wave of nationalism has “anti” immigration, NATO and western which can be subtly understood that it is all against policy making of the Erdogan regime but with the Euro-Asianist tone.

Is Victory Party a Red Herring Fish?

Herring fish distracts or misleads the predators under the water leaving a false red color in order to avoid attacking. The term came into literature to use in 1807 by English William Cobbett, who narrate a story of a strong-smelling smoked fish to divert and distract hounds from chasing a rabbit. Later the Red Herring fish used as metaphor and was popularized in fictions and political novels.

With such analogy, there is a new far right nationalist party which is called Victory Party (VP) born on August 26, 2021, by Umit Ozdag who were expelled from Nationalist Movement Party and failed to manage his position in Good Party. (IP). Under his leadership, he managed to include several nationalist cadets to his party from other political parties. IP believes that both Good Party and MHP deviated from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk objectives. Its party symbol is a crescent Turkish flag with a torch sit in a hand. Zafer party main objective is to bring Turkish nationalism back to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ideological line. Therefore, he is for cultural, economic and Ataturk nationalism and their moto is 3 Bs in Turkish Bilim (Sciences), Birlik (Unity), Baris (Peace) with the following statement (Zafer Partisi gelecek, siginmacilar gidecek) Zafer Party will come and refugee will leave. Umit Ozdag is a staunch nationalist, a controversial face in Turkish political life.

In party introduction video, he criticizes Erdogan government to sell Turkish passports to Arabs in exchange of American dollars. According to him Turks sacrificed their lives for this land (Turkey) and it is land of the martyrdom but Erdogan is selling it to the Arabs for their dollars.  While the politics go smirk, and public outcry over the economic and societal issues which harbinger new political tectonic waves in 2023, politicians such as Ozdag finds landscape to evoke the nationalistic sentiments.

In a video, he visited a shop that turned out the owner was Syrian, questioned him whether he pays the taxes or how he became citizen. In different video he gets in a debate with citizens in streets about immigrations and other political problems or you see them reading statements in front of the government buildings. Recently, he got into a harsh brawl with internal minister Suleyman Soylu over both personal issues and immigration policies, even called him to street to fight, he went in front of the Internal Ministry building but Suleyman soylu did not show up, he called him coward and that said he was chicken out to hide himself behind police enforcement, officials, and many of these officials he claimed were his students.

As he stirs more water in internal politics with his anti-refugee rhetoric, political objections and nationalistic views, his personality is also at the spotlight, to some, he is trojan horse of the Erdogan to divide votes, or a red herring to distract public attention from economic issues to trivial matters. As former president of the ASAM Eurasian strategical research center and professor of international relations, Umit Ozdag also wrote books such as unconventional warfare textbooks which were added to the curriculum of special warfare in police and military enforcement, Ozdag was a teaching professor at these institutions.

His tweets are more popular than any other political figure in the government including President Erdogan, his anti-refugee rhetoric, political semantic evasion, receive positive reactions from different political leanings in Turkey. Ozdag wants to see all Syrian refugee leave Turkey immediately as he sees them as disrupter of the social fabric of Turkey, changing demography, involving in illegal activities. To him refugee is the new evil of all problems Turkey faces and he thinks that the Erdogan government is not aware of at all. Ozdag even claim that refugees are behind the social unrest and disorder.

A couple of days ago, he exposed the detail of conversation that took place between him and president of the SADAT (paramilitary organization), Adnan Tanriverdi, he was also advisor to Erdogan over military issues.  According to Ozdag, Tanriverdi had mistook him for a parliament member of AKP and revealed some details about SADAT’s role and activities during the lame military coup in July 15 in 2016, see the details of this conversation in Sixth year of Turkey’s failed coup attempt: ‘SADAT’s role came into light by Engin Yigit.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.

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