On July 9, the head of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, completed a 25-day “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul, marking one of the most memorable protests in Turkey’s political history. The 420-kilometer (260-mile) trek, meant to denounce the government’s crackdown on the opposition and call for a return to democracy, drew comparisons to Gandhi’s 390-kilometer Salt March, a milestone in India’s independence struggle, with Kilicdaroglu’s soft-spoken nature and physical resemblance to Gandhi reinforcing the association. More importantly, however, the CHP leader’s march set a milestone of its own, bringing together disparate groups from Turkey’s fractured opposition, which, many believed, could never happen.
The march culminated with a rally in Istanbul’s Maltepe district, with a huge crowd packing the vast meeting area. Many people could not even enter the venue. It was hard to tell what groups the participants represented, as they heeded Kilicdaroglu’s call to avoid displaying political symbols and brandish only the march’s hallmark “Justice” banner and the national flag. Only the presence of familiar faces and the statements made to the press demonstrated the diverse political quarters the rally attracted. They included socialist parties and groups that have traditionally sniffed at CHP policies, as well as trade unions and various civic society groups. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — Turkey’s main Kurdish political movement and a frequent critic of the CHP on the Kurdish question — was also there. The participants, however, were not limited to the left. Disgruntled co-founders and former lawmakers of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well as estranged figures from the Nationalist Action Party, a critic-turned-ally of the AKP, were among the most attention-grabbing faces in the crowd. The CHP’s own Kemalist base, which few had imagined would stand side by side with those quarters, was also present in force.