Nationalism is the winner of the elections
The Turkish election campaign is increasingly marked by sharp nationalist rhetoric, which has also affected the distribution of seats in the new parliament. Turkey expert Burak Copur explains in an interview that the country is moving even further to the right.
Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu uses increasingly nationalist rhetoric in his recent statements before the runoff election. For example, he speaks of protecting “the honor of Turkey” and sending all refugees home if he comes to power. Many in the West are concerned about the aggressive rhetoric of a social democrat. How is it viewed in Turkey?
According to Copur, what Kilicdaroglu is propagating, namely his anti-refugee campaign, strikes a nerve in Turkey. There is a high level of hostility towards refugees, particularly among young people, and Kilicdaroglu is now trying to capture those voters.
“Nationalist card” as the “only way out”?
In this election campaign, do you think that the end justifies the means?
Copur says yes, for large parts of the opposition and apparently for Kilicdaroglu as well. He sees no other way out but to appeal to nationalist sentiment and essentially copy what Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the far-right MHP and extremist Sinan Ogan, are doing.
Whether this strategy will be successful remains to be seen. On the other hand, there are still the Kurds, the pro-Kurdish HDP, who have massively supported Kilicdaroglu and did not field their own candidate.
On the day of the runoff election on May 28, it will be seen whether this nationalist hysteria, which is now being spread by the opposition, will generate further hatred and crimes against refugees and Kurds.
“Nationalist elements more successful than ever before”
In Turkey, nationalist forces are more successful than ever before. In the parliamentary elections, they had great success in all camps. Can we speak of a shift to the right?
According to Copur, definitely. Turkey is moving even further to the right. If you take out, for example, the pro-Kurdish HDP, the Turkish Workers’ Party TIP, and the Kemalist, left-nationalist CHP generously, then there is a conservative to far-right Islamist party landscape in the Turkish parliament of more than 400 out of a total of 600 seats.
That’s two-thirds of the parliament. One could argue that the real winners of these elections are Turkish nationalism and political Islam.
No processing of Turkish history
According to Copur, this is due to the historical development of Turkey. Nationalism has always been an important constant in Turkish politics since the political movement of the Young Turks at the beginning of the 20th century. Kemal Atatürk, as a member of the Young Turks, actually continued the idea of nationalism and made it a fixed part of Turkish state policy.
Nationalism is basically a central state ideology, if not the most important one in Turkey, and there is essentially a lack of negative experiences from World War II that Europe and Germany have experienced due to nationalism and racism. There is also no processing of Turkish history, no enlightenment about pogroms, such as those against Jews, Greeks or Alevites, or the genocide against Armenians.
Therefore, there is not really a democracy and culture of remembrance in Turkey, but rather a claim of superiority that Turkey is a great nation with an unsullied history.
Turkism and Sunni Islam as the only true identity
Turkish nationalism ultimately means the elevation of Turkism and Sunni Islam as the only true identity. In Turkey, there is effectively an ethnoreligious concept of identity that makes Turks and Sunnis first-class citizens.
And all others, minorities such as Kurds, Alevites, Greeks, Christians, and Armenians, must subordinate themselves to this concept and assimilate. In principle, as a member of a minority, they can become anything in Turkey, as long as they do not demonstrate their cultural identity too much and do not advocate for their cultural rights.
If they do not follow this rule of submission, the Turkish state responds with discrimination, exclusion, and persecution.
Doubt that Kilicdaroglu’s strategy will work
Kilicdaroglu himself belongs to the religious minority of the Alevites and, even in 2023, is considered by many nationalist Sunnis to be unwinnable as a result. Do you think that despite his intensified rhetoric, he can still win votes?
The first round of voting showed that even many voters of the nationalist IYI Party, which is in an alliance with Kilicdaroglu’s CHP, did not support him strongly, but rather gave their vote to Sinan Ogan. This means that he was not able to win over right-wing nationalist circles.
And he is now trying to address these circles with this nationalist anti-refugee campaign. But here is the big question of whether voters will choose the original instead of the copy. I have significant doubts that this nationalist strategy of Kilicdaroglu will work.
Ogan’s connection to Azerbaijan
The nationalist presidential candidate Ogan, whom you mentioned, received more than five percent of the vote in the first round and has since given a recommendation to vote for Erdogan. Are you surprised?
Not at all. On the evening of the first round of voting on May 14, I was convinced that Ogan would side with Erdogan. First of all, Ogan comes from an Azerbaijani family, and he himself has close ties to the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who recently asked Ogan on the phone to cooperate with Erdogan.
It is clear that President Erdogan has promised Ogan a lucrative position and probably also plans to make Ogan the successor of MHP leader Devlet Bahceli. However, it is by no means certain that all of Ogan’s voters will follow his recommendation.
Continuity and Intensification?
tagesschau.de: President Erdogan is favored to win the run-off election. If he wins the election, where will the domestic political focus be, and what do you expect in foreign policy?
Copur: Assuming he wins the run-off election, I expect a “more of the same” approach both in domestic and foreign policy. Perhaps there will be an intensification of the domestic situation, with Erdogan taking an even tougher stance against the Kurds and the PKK, for example.
It could also lead to the export of domestic conflicts to Germany or even to an increasing wave of emigration by young people. I also expect an increasingly aggressive foreign policy by President Erdogan since, if he cements his power, he will try to position himself as a strong statesman in foreign policy.
“Absolutely unrealistic and disconnected from reality”
Copur: It will not be possible to send millions of refugees, whose children are partly born and raised in Turkey, back to their homes. This is absolutely unrealistic and disconnected from reality, especially since many have fled from Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, and fear for their lives.
An attempt will likely be made, regardless of who the next president is, to return some of the refugees. The issue of “refugees” is putting enormous pressure in Turkey.