Like a film that has been rewound, the face of Turkey today is a reminder of the crisis period two decades ago. The inflation rate close to 100%, the fall in the value of the lira, economic stagnation, brain drain, ethnic and cultural tensions, military conflicts in the Trans-Caucasus, Balkans, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and the continuation of large-scale purges in the army, police, and judiciary form a complex. That is given that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the People’s Republic Party, is described by the word “abyss”.
Less than 10 months before next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections, the current face of Turkey looks worried and gloomy. Kılıçdaroğlu says: “We need social peace. A situation has arisen where we look at our neighbor’s way of life, way of thinking, and identity with suspicion.”
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president and politician who brought Turkey out of another “abyss” two decades ago, is the designer and executor of the current “abyss”. In 20 years, he has not only destroyed the great coalition he had built but also created new rifts in Turkish national life.
Perhaps the biggest damage that Erdogan and his cult of personality have done to Turkey is reviving the mummy of national “identity”. During the Ottoman era, the person at the top of the empire was the “Caliph” for the Muslims and the “Kaiser” for the Christians. He was also called “Sultan” for the Turks and “King” for the Shiites.
In other words, the Ottoman Caliphate presented a plural identity within the framework of the “nations” system. With the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Ata Turk) tried to establish a new identity under the title of “Turkity” or Turkishness, inspired by nationalism in Europe and achieved great success in this field. Kemalism always faced challenges from Islamists, pan-Turks, pan-Turanians, and pan-Kurds, but in nearly half a century, it was able to build a modern government around the concept of citizenship.
Erdogan managed to present himself as a Kemalist with a taste of Islamism with the “moving with lights off” strategy; A wolf in sheep’s clothing who succeeded in mobilizing the Islamists, fooling the Pan-Kurds and keeping the Kemalists satisfied, and achieving a series of unprecedented electoral successes in Turkey.
But, since it is not possible to play in several stages forever, seven or eight years ago, he faced a new challenge from Islamists, led by Fethullah Gulen, and Kurdish Marxists within the framework of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). became. In the hope of opening a new stage, Erdogan became national after redefining “identity” and opening this “Pandora’s box” added a problem to Turkey’s problems. First, he tried to corner Pan-Islamism and curb Pan-Turkism by inventing a fake “identity”, that is, Turks today as the descendants of Hayatlah.
The failure of this “identity creation” plan forced Erdogan to start a new game: the plurality of identities. In the last four years, he and his “intellectuals” who support him, using government statistics and statistics, have divided Turkish citizens into more than 50 “identities” – while more than 70% of citizens identify themselves as “Turkish”.
This game with “identity” has raised new demands: education in more than 30 languages, mostly with Turkish roots, and Kurdish and Arabic languages. On the other hand, government and party propaganda have helped spread “identity suspicions”. Activists of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party identify the leader of the main opposition party, Kılıç Darağlu, as a follower of the “Alawi” religious minority with Iranian roots.
Erdogan’s opponents talk about Erdogan’s “Armenian roots” in this identity ping-pong. The religious missionaries, who are all government employees, call only the Hanafi religion as having “Turkish origin”, while the founder of that religion, Noman bin Zuta Marzban, was from Mazandaran, and even the word “Turk” had never been heard by him.
Playing with “identity” is always dangerous. Erdogan’s supporters even call citizens whose mother tongue is close to Turkish “foreigners” or “Iranians”, but at the same time, in the hope of emphasizing the Islamic nature of the system, to the Arab minority, nearly three million people – minus more than four million Syrian refugees. They allow them to use the Arabic language in a limited framework for teaching, printing books, and naming shops and hotels.
Playing with “identity” has also had another interesting result. In the last election, Erdoğan’s party failed to win the majority of seats in the parliament (Grand National Assembly) and as a result, it was forced to form an alliance with the National Movement Party, led by the Bahceli government. This party, which considers itself the heir of the pan-Turkism and pan-Turanism movements of the past 100 years, has 48 representatives out of 600 in the current parliament and hopes to double this number in the 2023 elections.
The National Movement Party was founded by retired colonel Alp Arslan Turkish in 1969, but he always presented himself as the heir of Anwar Pasha, the leader of pan-Turkism at the beginning of the last century. The National Movement and its youth wing, the Gray Wolves (Buzkördler)*, played an important role in the suppression of armed leftist groups in the 1970s, probably with hints of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO). (Colonel Turkish had served as a NATO officer for many years.
From the point of view of pan-Turks, the only ethnic groups that use some form of Turkish language are considered Turks. But from the point of view of Pan-Turanians, more than 40 nations, from Hungary and Finland to the natives of Siberia, Koreans, and Japanese, are members of the “Turan” family. The Turkish Language Association, which was formed in 1932, introduced the new language of the republic by removing 800 Persian and Arabic words and creating 500 new words based on Istanbul Turkish. However, the same association introduced 32 other Turkish dialects as branches of Turkish with Greek, Persian, or Azeri roots based on the studies of Omar Saifuddin and Zia Gokalp.
Three Europeans are considered the fathers of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism. Matthias Alexander Kasterin of Finland raised the issue of “Turanian languages” against “Aryan languages”. Arminius Vambri of Hungary, who apparently converted to Islam and was an advisor to the Ottoman sultan for a while, shaped the “Turanian” identity from an ethnic point of view. (Recently declassified British archives show that he was an agent of British intelligence with the aim of creating Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism against the Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism of the 19th century.) Another Hungarian, György Kmet, who became the “Ismail Pasha” of the foundations strengthened the movement.
At present, their heirs and the Turkish colonel are trying to present pan-Turkism, pan-Turanism, and pan-Islamism as a professional trinity within the framework of an organization called “Kanun Fakhkaran” or “Ajaq al-Khradmendan” (Aydinlu Ajaqli). Since all professional movements need one or more “enemies”, the standard-bearers of pan-Turkism view the Kurds in general, the Alevis of Turkey and Syria, and the Iranians as “enemies”.
Last week, the National Coalition, which consists of six parties opposed to Erdogan, announced its readiness for the upcoming election battle by holding a leadership-level meeting. In this battle, 9 important issues of Turkey today, from the economic crisis to personality cults and identity tensions, will be in front of the voters. National coalition parties now have the majority in most of the large and middle cities of Turkey. Thus, important battles will be fought in small towns and villages.
The selection of the candidate of the national coalition for the presidency, that is, a duel with Erdogan, will take place soon. In addition to Kılıçdaroğlu, the possibility of the candidacy of Ali Babacan, the designer of the “economic miracle” in Erdogan’s previous governments and now the leader of a party opposing him, may also be raised. The next meeting of the leaders of the six parties, on October 2, will take the final decision.
Kılıçdaroğlu talks about the “revival of Turkish democracy”. I think he is exaggerating because Turkish democracy is not dead, although it is badly wounded. Despite the suppression and censorship policy of the Erdogan government, the Turkish press is still much freer and more honest than the press in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the eyes of many Turkish citizens, if not the majority, Erdogan’s games on the international stage and around the fictitious issue of “identity” are a sign of his growing political confusion and impotence.