New Turkey morphs into the Old Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent campaign rally in Siirt province — criticized heavily by opposition parties — was, in fact, complete anathema to the objectivity that the office of president is supposed to entail. With his ongoing personal election campaigning, Erdogan has managed to make himself the sole symbol of the very power and rule targeted by the opposition.

Via these actions, Erdogan has also stolen Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu’s role, leaving the Justice and Development Party (AKP) without any institutional identity at the height of campaign season. And in fact, the president has gone even further than this, determining what the fundamental polarization between the parties is to be for the elections.

In Siirt, we saw the same basic outlines of the speech that triggered the most recent polemic with Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroilu. Waving the sacred Quran in his hand, Erdogan questioned Kilicdaroilu’s beliefs: quotI grew up with the Quran, but we all know what replaces the Quran for him [Kilicdaroilu].”

What Erdogan is quite openly telling the people at his rallies has nothing to do with Kilicdaroilu’s private life and beliefs it is all about sect. Kilicdaroilu is, of course, a member of the Alevi sect of Muslims, and so with his words, Erdogan is actually using Kilicdaroilu to cast doubt, not only upon the opposition leader’s faith, but upon all Alevis’ belief systems and relations with the Muslim sacred book, the Quran.

Erdogan’s words at this rally were quite a typical example of how religious and sectarian discord can be used for the purpose of political gain. But when someone who also bears the title of president throws words such as these around at a campaign rally, the situation becomes even more serious. For the first time ever, the AKP has not included a single Alevi deputy candidate. The extreme use and manipulation of religious beliefs, and in particular Sunni sectarian beliefs, is the result of very base political calculations.

It used to be, in eras past, that the center-right forces of the political spectrum would bring out these symbols, wielding populist politics to the best of their efforts but in those days, the more secular sensitivities present in the justice system, universities and the ranks of the military would enter the scene, putting on the brakes before things got too extreme. It is because these kinds of braking mechanisms are no longer functioning that religion is being used so freely and openly for the purpose of political gain. Universities and the justice system have lost their significance, and the military is only recently trying to emerge from the tight corner into which it’s been squeezed.

As Erdogan waves the Quran around, openly questioning Kilicdaroilu’s faith, the soldiers who were being tried for coup attempts during the era of the Old Turkey are being acquitted. The overturn of the decision rendered in the Balyoz case by the Supreme Court of Appeals last week was a product of the compromise that has been reached between the ruling party and the military. The decision was quite interesting, as it asserted that what could be tried in court was not a coup attempt, but rather just a coup itself. The court’s decision also labeled the coup planning meeting nothing but a martial law exercise, and goes on to discount all the evidence contained in phone recordings. In the wake of this significant decision from the court, it is doubtful that any more investigations or trials will take place concerning coup attempts.

The trial regarding the murders that took place at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya many years ago was also concluded, with much evidence and many suspects. There was an investigation underway to determine if these murders — which targeted Christian missionary activities in Turkey — had ties to the military. But now, as we’ve seen with the Ergenekon and the Balyoz coup cases, the suspects in the Zirve case have also been set free. So, we have a Turkey where terrible murders are really neither investigated nor punished anymore, rather like the Old Turkey, when you think about it.

From the start of this electoral season, the AKP’s basic slogan has been “New Turkey.” But recent developments point to the fact that the advances made by Turkey between 2002 and 2012 have, in fact, come to an end, and that in 2015, the country is actually going backwards. Yes, we are slipping back into all the lawlessness, tyranny, and darkness of the Old Turkey. What we are seeing is a restoration, the bringing back of the essence of what existed 15 years ago. But it is the ruling party that is really in the greatest danger at this point. For they have clearly fallen into the sea and are clinging desperately to the only port of hope they see, which is the Old Turkey.