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Vulgarity on Rise in Turkish Political Discourse

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first to place CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the same boat of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Riot police surround a protester during a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his government's policy on Syria, in Ankara May 18, 2013. Erdogan said on Friday it would be up to the U.N. Security Council to decide whether to establish a no-fly zone inside Syria and said he backed the involvement of Russia and China in planned peace talks.      REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTXZROX

There is something wrong with the Turkish political discourse. For an aspiring democracy, the vibe is often shrill and far from democratic.

That said, what M ustafa Akyol, an Al-Monitor contributing writer, argued about the country’s main opposition — the Republican People’s Party (CHP) — may be too far-fetched to claim. Akyol wrote on May 19: “CHP even needs basic sanity, the lack of which is clearly seen in its irrational and immoral stance on Syria.”  

The fact of the matter is that the negative and vulgar language of politics in Turkey begins with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Whoever occupies that privileged office sets the tone for the rest of the nation. Erdogan takes pride in being from Kasimpasa, the Istanbul neighborhood known to be the hotbed of tough guys. And Erdogan is the epitome of this attitude by speaking out aggressively. Although Turks welcome and appreciate Erdogan’s frankness, there is also the downside of this style that works against creating unity and building consensus. Erdogan shows no tolerance for differing views, which is what is happening with the CHP’s Syria conundrum. One is either aligned with the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) policy on Syria, or a supporter of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the Baath regime. There is simply no room for nuance, and this is dangerous.

Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Erdogan may not be making up facts, but he is only seeing them in a very black and white way which means that his opinions — while they sound righteous — only serve to mislead the nation.

For instance, Erdogan said on May 14 at his party’s weekly parliamentary group meeting, “We — unlike the main opposition party for whatever reason — are not standing by the tyrant, dictator and murderer with bloody hands. We only and only stand by the righteous, oppressed and those who suffer. What is good for Turkey is to stand up for righteousness, and we did that.” But the fact of the matter is that while this sounds good, associating his internal political opposition with Assad is nothing but to call CHP leader Kilicdaroglu an accomplice to murder. This is done to help him at the ballot box, but it does not set a good image for Turkey globally — as there is no other country that equates its opposition with Assad.

In the past, the Turkish state considered the reactionaries, meaning the Islamist opposition, as a threat to Turkey’s national interests. What Erdogan is trying to do unfortunately with this ill-considered attack on the CHP is to shift the perception of threat from the Islamist camp to the CHP and its base which in general holds secular and liberal views. This is a treacherous road to travel, and does not support the Erdogan government’s main argument that their policies help promote the development of democracy in Turkey.

Turks living close to the Turkish-Syrian border have no problem hosting Syrians who are escaping Assad’s murdering machine. It would also be wrong to claim that opposition party members and their supporters would close the borders and leave the refugees to God’s mercy. Something like that has never happened in Turkish history, and there is no need to rewrite history with such groundless accusations. Whether the like-minded people of AKP politics like it or not, there is a real problem at hand. The warning by Yasar Yakis, a founding member of the AKP and former minister of foreign affairs in AKP’s first term in office [2002] that Turkey is supporting the wrong side of the opposition in the Syrian civil war should not be taken lightly. Sharing in a mass email on May 19 the story of a Syrian rebel identified as Abu Sakkar taking a bite from the heart of a dead soldier, Yakis writes, “Turkey still considers people like Abu Sakkar as freedom fighters.”

Turks living on the border with Syria have been saying for a long time that there has been no border security, with people freely crossing from one side to the other, and expressing for far too long worries about the government’s unequivocal support to fighters who look like al-Qaeda fighters, just as Amberin Zaman, an Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse contributor, succinctly described in her article titled, “Armed, Bearded Syrians Flourish in Southern Turkey.”

It is about time for the government to stop abusing the opposition’s incapacity to make a good argument challenging their Syria policy and taking responsibility for their policy that has made Turkey vulnerable to unprecedented security threats. It is not Kilicdaroglu who Erdogan should worry about to keep the country’s long-term security interests intact. He is just an opposition party leader — but no enemy, and certainly not a person who can be qualified as insane. If there is, however, an obligation to talk about insanity, it must be the whole political atmosphere with this negative and vulgar rhetoric.

Tulin Daloglu is a contributor to Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also 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. On Twitter: @TurkeyPulse

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