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Who Stands Where in Turkey?

Murat Belge*

Everywhere and always, election results can contain “surprises,” and often do. I place the election we held in May in this category. I did not expect the AKP to emerge from this election so decisively. That there are many who think similarly has been evident from what has been written and said since then. The overall performance of the government, since “Economist” Tayyip Erdoğan waged his war on interest rates, included every kind of “malfunction” that would distance any party from power. Naturally, the economy was turned upside down, a rather important factor in our country.

After the election results were announced, we got angry at the opposition, saying, “You fooled us.” We were most angry at the CHP, as it was the leading, effective actor in this process. However, like many of us, these political parties had also deceived themselves. They had deceived themselves before they deceived us. It cannot be said that they were completely mistaken, because the AKP did lose votes — but not as much as expected.

So, in the end, there is a “surprise” element in this. Our perception of this as a “surprise” stems from not knowing the society well enough. We make predictions based on a sort of “knowledge” about how “these matters proceed in the world,” the clarity of which is uncertain. While there is “general knowledge,” every society has its own unique structure, i.e., aspects and characteristics that do not conform to others. When we make calculations without sufficiently considering these, it is inevitable that we are left stranded.

What are these characteristics here?

Ultimately, the style, implementations, and character of Turkey’s modernization effort and process. Hasan writes today: a hundred years ago, we demolished the sultanate and established the republic. But a hundred years later, Tayyip Erdoğan came, won so many elections in a row, and established the Erdoğan sultanate. Erdoğan’s thoughts on the established republic are no secret. Everyone in society knows this; he said “a pious generation,” he said everything. The Head of Religious Affairs also stands by him, saying things with what he does not say. We cannot think that these voters accidentally went and voted for Tayyip Erdoğan. Well, we might say this election, conducted at another level, is wrong; but it’s not about “being mistaken.” In other words, the style of “modernization” continues to perpetuate the society’s reaction to those who run modernization.

Among the group opposing and fighting against Erdoğan and the AKP today (which we can say is half of the society), there is a segment that approves and likes the aforementioned style. And if it were up to them, they are determined to carry on as they know. This means that they see no harm in sustaining the “reaction” we talk about, nor do they feel the need to think of another method other than perpetuating the unhealthy division in society. We can probably say that those who provide the strongest support for Erdoğan-style politics are these people. Historically, in political platforms, we often witness groups that harbor the most hostility toward each other also displaying behaviors closest to each other. This is a similar situation.

Speaking generally, I want to say a few things. These are at the level of “intuition.” The recent history of Turkey has drawn a large part of the population from rural areas to cities. However, this was not “urbanization” in the classical sense (Whether there is a “classical” form of this is debatable). What we experienced, as called in Turkish, was “gecekondu” [squatter housing] development, and masses emerged who had ceased to be villagers but had not yet become “urbanites.” These people are numerous, hence they carry significant weight in society. They want to live as they know, with the values they have acquired so far. The AKP government provides them this opportunity because a considerable part of the AKP cadres are the product of these sociological processes. Of course, not all of these people have the same political preferences, but it’s no secret that there is a portion close to the current government and supporting it with their votes (most of whom fall into the “poor” category). Those who have kept the AKP in power for so many years are largely these people. Those who vote for the “left” opposition are from segments with higher income and education levels. This is a situation that contradicts the general trend of the world, but it should be considered normal in Turkey.

The people of this segment (“many of them,” let’s say) look at the AKP and say, “They are one of us.” This party, which they see as “one of us,” allows them to see themselves as part of the “power.” This is important. Apparently, this can outweigh economic hardships, because they are the ones who suffer most from Tayyip Erdoğan’s economic policies.

Will this situation continue like this forever? I think a differentiation process has started in the younger generations, but to say “it has started” does not mean it will immediately lead to a result. Social processes are not rushed; they proceed slowly. Of course, the AKP-affiliated cadres will not sit idly by while this happens. They will do everything they can, albeit with difficulty, to not lose the power they have gained. An important factor is that the forces currently in opposition understand the “They are one of us” problem I mentioned correctly and take the necessary action.

This will not be achieved by writing “single-party” elegies. Kılıçdaroğlu correctly diagnosed this situation and put forward the “reconciliation” formula, but he did not specify why reconciliation was necessary. I wish for those who currently guide the Republican People’s Party to stay away from the single-party style and to stand clear and determined against our “democracy” history.

*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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