Tuesdays are "Bashing Day" for the leaders of the political parties in the Turkish parliament. Every Tuesday at their party gatherings, they go on the attack, fiercely accusing one or the other of working against the best interests of Turkey, selling it off to foreign interests or paving the way for an independent Kurdistan. The regularly scheduled speeches by party leaders can sometimes border on hate speech. One should therefore not be deluded into thinking — or even hoping — that any of these leaders can speak the language of helping or healing needed to promote the resolution of issues by consensus. The parliamentary party meetings on Tuesday, Feb. 19, are prime examples.
Speaking at the gathering of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the country’s opposition of “chasing evil thoughts” and failing to support “inclusive” policies. The “evil” that Erdogan senses in the opposition resides in their understanding of "nationalism," which according to him, is no different from "racism." His outburst was triggered by an event that took place on Feb 18 in Sinop, on the Black Sea.
Sirri Sureyya Onder, Levent Tuzel, Sebahat Tuncel and Ertugrul Kurkce —members of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — had been on a tour of the Black Sea coast, a part of the country known for its diehard nationalist population. The lawmakers went there to talk about the government’s Kurdish peace initiative and rally support for helping facilitate the Kurdish population agreeing on a negotiated settlement of the Kurdish issue. In Sinop, some 200 angry protesters gathered in front of the building where the BDP representatives were just starting their program. The lawmakers feared for their lives.
Speaking about the incident, Erdogan observed, “Groups from CHP [Republican People’s Party] and MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] are engaging in provocation. Like it or not, these people are elected representatives. As long as their meetings stay within the norms of the rule of law, you have to respect them.” He added, “But MHP has a certain mentality. They do racism and serve an evil understanding [of nationalism.] By preventing that meeting [in Sinop] from proceeding, they’re bringing unrest to the country.” Erdogan let it be known that he is against all nationalisms, Turkish and otherwise.
The prime minister is more than 100% right that people should show respect for others and abstain from physical and verbal violence and abuse. That said, the people of Turkey seem to be confused about the relationship of language and keeping the peace in society. For example, “nationalism” and “racism” as well as “terrorism” are among the words constantly being contested in Turkey, along with the meanings of democracy and religion. The type of society one might think the political leadership desires — if it were to be based purely on their politicking and use of the above terms — is mindboggling.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu welcomed a group of veterans to his party’s parliamentary meeting and in a speech stressed the need to respect the sacrifice of veterans, acknowledging their long struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The CHP, therefore, must stand strong and fully grasp what the new Kurdish initiative is really about. “I’m stating as clearly and openly as I can: We’re against hardheaded nationalism and definitely against racism,” said Kilicdaroglu. “Using racism for politics is a betrayal of the people,” he added, indicating that his questioning of the AKP’s Kurdish initiative had nothing to do with nationalism or racism but the need for checks and balances to do what is best for the nation. While Erdogan has claimed that the CHP does not know what its own party stands for regarding the initiative, on Tuesday Kilicdaroglu did not sound like a man blindly rejecting the new initiative, but rather, as he argued, one that lacks information to properly judge it.
Emine Ulker Tarhan, CHP deputy chair, however, was more forthcoming and precise in her criticism of Erdoğan than Kilicdaroglu was. She accused Erdogan of conflating the meanings of nationalism and racism in an unfortunate way and added, “The prime minister was calling not so long ago for [PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s] execution and lifting the immunity [of BDP lawmakers]; if he is now trying to compliment the BDP, it is obvious that he swings from one side to another, with his flip-flops becoming a habit.” Tarhan moved on to hint that a member of the ruling party had been the real provocateur behind the Sinop incident and questioned why the security forces had not taken the necessary precautions since they knew from Twitter traffic that the BDP lawmakers would face difficult situations on their tour.
At the MHP meeting, party leader Devlet Bahceli accused the BDP members of engaging in “secessionist” politics and that this could not be accepted or respected. Bahceli argued that the government is preparing to grant amnesty to PKK terrorists while in the same breathe continue to accuse jailed generals of being terrorists (referring to the Ergenekon trials ongoing since 2008).
Erdogan has also been complaining lately that former members of the Turkish military should not be charged with terrorism or referred to as terrorists. Moreover, he claimed during his Tuesday speech that his government is “not negotiating” with Ocalan or “taking him on as a partner” in finding a permanent solution to the Kurdish issue. What he is doing, he said, is looking for all kinds of opportunities to end the bloodshed over the Kurdish issue. Yet, if he is not negotiating, the substance of the prime minister’s initiative — for which he calls on others to support — indeed remains a mystery.
What is clear is that each and every Tuesday, the atmosphere in the Turkish parliament is too poisonous for constructive conversation to thrive. It is as if the political leadership feels that they have an obligation to attack each other as enemies do, oblivious to all of them caring about and serving the same country. Is it really impossible to practice politics without slandering and bashing? Why not focus on solving problems today so we can look forward to a better tomorrow?
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years.