On June 7, 2015, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in a general election. On election night, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), ruled out forming any coalition government requiring backing from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and called for another election.
Erdogan was not seen in the media for a while.
In July, 2015, the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was back in the spotlight just at the very time that Erdogan needed it for his own ends. Islamic State—if we can put this in the most politically correct way—had no problem with the AKP government by that time, and was in the news bombing campaigners for peace in Syria outside a culture centre in Suruc in Turkey’s southern Sanliurfa province.
While then PM and AKP head Ahmet Davutoglu was stalling the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), with coalition talks, bedlam broke out in Turkey with consecutive terrorist attacks ascribed to the PKK and Islamic State hitting big population centres.
When the legally prescribed period for coalition talks drew to a close, Erdogan, as president, exercised his legislative authority to call a snap poll.
On November 1, 2015, the Islamist-rooted AKP regained its parliamentary majority in the subsequent election.
Turkish feelings were ablaze as the national battle was joined in the fight against the terrorists said to be behind the outrages in major cities and urban campaigns were fought against the PKK in southeastern provinces.
On April 21, 2016, pro-Erdogan columnist Fuat Ugur wrote in the Turkiye daily that armed Gulenist members of the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (also known as FETO, officials have named it after Erdogan’s former ally and now enemy Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher exiled in the US, who denies any connection to terrorism) were getting ready to stage a coup and that the government was preparing to identify them when they attempted it.
Other journalists loyal to Erdogan were voicing opinions that most of the country’s F-16 fighter pilots were members of FETO, even while public opinion did not take them seriously.
In a snapshot for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), academic Howard Eissenstat of St Lawrence University in New York State, in December 2017 wrote: “During the first decade of AKP rule, Erdogan accepted and indeed encouraged the Gulenists’ expansion inside Turkey’s security institutions. The alliance between Erdogan and the Gulen movement facilitated the entrenchment of Gulen-affiliated police, prosecutors, and judges who soon proved effective in going after shared political enemies.
“They targeted pro-Kurdish activists and politicians in mass trials between 2009 and 2011. More famously, they launched the Ergenekon trials that began in 2008 and the Sledgehammer trial that began the following year, both of which prosecuted secularists for alleged attempts to overthrow the democratic order. The deeply flawed trials sent thousands to prison, including leading members of the military, based on incomplete or non-existent evidence. The effect was to sideline many traditional Kemalists in the officer corps and to increase the influence of Erdogan’s political allies, including Gulen. The trials inaugurated a strategy that would dramatically expand the politicization of key state institutions and set the basic formulae for today’s purges.”
In May 2016, Erdogan ordered PM Davutoglu to resign. Davutoglu is an ignorant romantic famous for his baseless neo-Ottomanist dreams. He is a cheap bureaucrat with no popular base. The West loved him since he was a useful idiot.
On July 15, 2016, an attempt at a military coup d’etat occurred.
In October 2016, Bahceli urged the turning of the de facto presidency into a de jure institution.
In January 2017, when the required constitutional amendment proposal for that transition moved to the debate stage in parliament, the sequence of terror attacks abruptly ended.
On March 31, 2019, the AKP lost the Istanbul municipality in the local elections.
On election night, the AKP’s candidate for the Istanbul mayoralty, ex-PM Binali Yildirim, held a press briefing, during which he told reporters that he had won at the ballot box.
There was later speculation that Erdogan’s son-in-law and finance minister, Berat Albayrak, ordered Yildirim to hold the press call to inform reporters that he was the winner after AKP headquarters learnt that the party had lost Istanbul. Yildirim allegedly rejected Albayrak’s order, but then obeyed after receiving a phone call from Erdogan.
Erdogan and the Albayraks
There is ongoing speculation that Erdogan nowadays takes all his decisions only with Albayrak and his son-in-law’s brother, Serhat Albayrak, and doesn’t consider the input of anyone else.
However, Erdogan and his inner management had an unexpected problem presented by this particular election. At all previous polls, they claimed their victory during the early hours that followed election night, and the CHP accepted the result. But this time round, the opposition candidate in Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, and the CHP’s Istanbul head, Canan Kaftancioglu, managed to collect all signed-off documents on the votes cast in the city. It was the first time the CHP had achieved such a thing.
Following Yildirim’s premature claim of a triumph, Erdogan was not seen in the media for a while.
Imamoglu, as it turned out, was not awarded his mandate for Turkey’s most powerful mayoralty until April 17. Interestingly, technicalities meant the High Election Board (YSK) had to provide him with his mandate to make possible the admission of the AKP’s “extraordinary objection” and request to annul the poll. A final ruling is awaited from the YSK.
Call for “Turkey Alliance”
On April 19, Erdogan called for a “Turkey Alliance”. Commentators speculated that amid the country’s financial turmoil he was seeking to palm off some of the responsibility for economic management on the CHP, should it prove so foolish as to accept his extended hand. (recall the coalition talks after June 7, 2015 mentioned above).
On April 20, the PKK was back in the news. Four Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes.
Erdogan’s “Turkey Alliance” could of course be a smart move as the complete collapse of the economy is approaching due to the policies pursued by his son-in-law since last September. Giving the CHP an economic brief would save Erdogan from full responsibility for the upcoming economic ruin.
But on April 21, Bahceli ruled out the “Turkey Alliance” option. “The MHP continues to see the Istanbul mayoral poll as a matter of national survival and calls on the YSK to annul the election on the allegations that the winner was in cooperation with the PKK and FETO,” Bahceli stated, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Bahceli has basically been pushing Erdogan, and the country, towards the cliff-edge since he took control of matters on June 7, 2015. As far back as 2001, he finished the political careers of his coalition partners by calling for snap polls at the most inopportune time.
On April 21, when Imamoglu was holding a gathering of Istanbullers to celebrate his win, Erdogan’s trashy newspapers put out headlines saying mayor Imamoglu was responsible for the PKK attack.
“Are you happy Ekrem?”
Vile tabloid Gunes went with “Are You Happy Ekrem?” addressing Imamoglu with a story about the four soldiers who’d perished the previous day. The story included Imamoglu’s recent positive comments on Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned former co-chair of the HDP who last year challenged Erdogan for the presidency from his cell.
Gunes is one of the truly scummy papers in Erdogan’s ‘media pool’. It is currently owned by Erdogan’s bouncer, a man who served time in jail with the strongman when he was sentenced to a few months in imprisonment in 1999 during the Post-modern Military Coup period.
On April 21, CHP leader Kilicdaroglu attended the funeral of Yener Kirikci, one of the soldiers who lost their lives, in Akkuzulu village, Ankara Province.
Kilicdaroglu has been Turkey’s main opposition leader since 2010. Thousands of people have died due to Erdogan’s policies and the Republic has been almost entirely dismantled during his time at the top. Kilicdaroglu attends the funerals of martyrs, but he’s never done anything much to bring an end to deaths.
During the funeral, a group of people started chanting “PKK out” and Kilicdaroglu narrowly escaped an apparent lynching attempt by taking refuge in a house. For one and a half hours, attacks made by the would-be lynchers continued outside of the property.
Finally, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, who was also present at the funeral, stood in front of the house and addressed the mob. “My esteemed friends, you gave your message, you have shown your reaction, now disperse,” he said, according to bianet’s translation.
Akar claims he was kidnapped by FETOist coup plotters on July 15, 2015. However, the so-called FETOists told the court they didn’t kidnap the then army chief, they just obeyed his orders.
“The thugs that almost killed Turkey’s opposition leader are still protesting. Regime could make them disperse if it wanted (tear gas used daily against dissenters?). Meanwhile, regime’s Defense Minister has effectively congratulated the thugs ‘for delivering a necessary message,’” Timur Kuran of Duke University in the US wrote on Twitter.
At around 15:20 on the day of the mob attack, Kilicdaroglu left the house and departed in an armoured vehicle. As he was leaving , a woman was heard shouting: "Burn the house, burn it."
The CHP leader addressed a crowd gathered in front of his party’s headquarters to support him. He seemed a changed man from the Kilicdaroglu familiar to observers since 2010. He suggested that he’d got the message but, surprisingly, won’t be following the unmistakable orders this time.
That message is patently familiar. No-one is allowed to attempt to reunite the Turks and Kurds with common political goals that would end the terror as Kilicdaroglu’s CHP had done during the March local elections. It is a basic rule in Turkey. The same case holds with the issue of the Armenian genocide. Prominent journalist Hrant Dink was killed in 2007 after trying to convince some Turks that some unacceptable events actually took place in 1915. Journalist Ugur Mumcu, Diyarbakir Bar Association head Tahir Elci and Diyarbakir police chief Gaffar Okkan are just some examples of people who were murdered after trying to convince people that the PKK terror could end.
“No attack can intimidate us. We will bring spring to this country. I promise that spring will prevail in each and every part of this country… They set up scaffolds for me. It is my promise to my 82 million people: I have a single life and I can sacrifice this life if it is necessary for the survival of this country and the happiness of the children,” Kilicdaroglu said, essentially, and remarkably, in addressing the crowd in this way, throwing off the chains he’d been burdened by for so long.
During his speech, the crowd chanted: “Soysuz resign”.
In Turkish, while the word 'Soylu' means noble and well-bred, its antonym, 'Soysuz', means corrupt and ignoble.
“Don’t allow CHP at martyrs’ funerals”
In June 2018, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said during one of his regular attacks on the CHP: “I sent instructions to the governors via my undersecretary. I told them 'Don't allow CHP provincial chairs into the protocols of martyr funerals.' It is that simple. They have only one place, one address to go. We will show them this address. The members of the PKK also have funerals. We very rarely let them hold funerals. We will allocate them a one-person quota. If they are together at the ballot box, they will also be together at the funeral.”
The person photographed punching Kilicdaroglu is an AKP member. AKP spokesperson Omer Celik said in a tweet: “Our Ankara Provincial Executive Board has decided to refer O.S. to the Provincial Disciplinary Board, requesting his final discharge from the party.”
“There was no [pre-determined] provocation in the attack, Soylu stated, indicating that the incident was simply spontaneous. However, the minutes of the Cubuk District Gendarmerie Commandership determined that "the suspects provoked the incidents”.
Criticising Soylu for his remarks suggesting that the assault was not organised but was the result of the resentment of relatives of the martyr given the CHP's alleged cooperation with the HDP, a CHP parliamentary investigatory motion outlined on April 23 how "the fact that a minister made such statements protecting criminals before the end of the investigation gives the impression that there is an attempt to cover up the assault," Erdogan’s Daily Sabah reported.
“The CHP has long been criticised for its unofficial alliance with the pro-PKK HDP. The CHP has refrained from officially including the HDP, which has been condemned for its close ties with the PKK, in its electoral alliance with the Good Party (IP) amid fears of a possible backlash from its secular-nationalist voter base. Some HDP members have been charged with or accused of having links to the PKK terrorist organisation that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years, leaving more than 40,000 dead,” the daily also noted.
“Pro-government paper @gunes_gazetesi [on April 21] accuses #CHP of supporting terrorism, asking if its new mayor of Istanbul is happy after 4 soldiers were killed by PKK. Daily incitement & vitriol spewed out in government mouthpieces and then vigilante attacks. Not hard to see the link,” BBC Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen wrote on April 21 in a tweet.
“In a climate of dangerous polarisation and demonising one side of this country as ‘terrorists’, #Turkey’s opposition leader @kilicdarogluk has been attacked. A very sad indictment of where Turkey is,” Lowen added in another tweet.
On April 22, Bahceli said: “You think of going to a place, where you have received only 9 percent of votes, to attend the funeral prayer of a soldier… The people of Akkuzulu are tough men with their beliefs and political behaviour. If they were told 'What is this man doing here? Do not let him into this village...' There is an old man on the television, throwing a punch. You, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, what did you do to make this man punch you in the face?”
On April 22, the person who punched Kilicdaroglu was caught in Eskisehir.
Also on April 22, Kilicdaroglu told reporters: “It is organised; it is, in fact, a terrorist attack. It has to be considered in this way. I mean, it should not be considered an ordinary, routine protest… It is not an ordinary, routine protest. It is an organised lynch attempt against a politician.”
“It is not realistic to allege that an organised provocation was staged against a participation that no one knew anything about,” Soylu told reporters.
On the same day, Erdogan finally commented on the attack against the main opposition leader in a tweet but did not offer any consolation: “Unfortunately, some unwelcome incidents took place yesterday during the funeral of one of our martyrs in Cubuk and protests against CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu turned into an act of violence.”
“Journalist from pro-govt paper @DailySabah on the man who attacked #Turkey’s opposition leader @kilicdarogluk: ‘his biggest misfortune was that he was caught on camera’. So the big problem wasn’t that he punched someone, but that he was filmed doing it,” Lowen wrote on April 23 in a tweet.
Asked on April 23 why he left the special session at the parliament for National Sovereignty and Children’s Day before HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan made his address, Erdogan said: “Why should I not? Shall I listen to those who don’t sing our National Anthem? Shall I listen to those who martyr my soldiers?,” Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Answering a question as to whether he had phoned Kilicdaroglu after the lynching attempt, Erdogan said he had already made his comment on the incident, and that there was no need for him to make a call.
On April 24, all nine people who were taken into custody in relation to the alleged lynching attempt were released. The last suspect released from detention was the person who punched Kilicdaroglu, bianet reported.
Bar association files complaint
On April 24, the Ankara Bar Association filed a complaint against Gunes for its story published on the same day Kilicdaroglu was subject to what it too saw as a lynching attempt, bianet reported.
The petition requested that Turgay Guler, the editor-in-chief of Gunes, those who attempted the claimed lynching of Kilicdaroglu, the instigators, and those who were determined by the prosecutor's office to have joined the attack be tried for "crimes against humanity" according to Article 77 of the Turkish Penal Code and for "provoking the people into hatred and animosity and insulting the people" according to the Turkish Penal Code Article 216.
The Bar Association said in the petition that the incident was "not momentary or coincidental".
"The incident was planned. What was lived through constitutes a crime against humanity. The crimes against humanity are defined in Article 77 of No. 5237, Turkish Penal Code, as systematically performing the mentioned acts against one part of society with political, philosophical, racial or religious motives.
"In this case, there is a political cause. Furthermore, the move was against a certain part of society based upon a plan and the motive was to obtain a particular result."
The association pointed to the Gunes headline as evidence for the attack being "planned and systematic".
“This title shows that the incident was planned and systematic and it was expected by the newspapers and the press who create provocative publications,” the Bar added.
“Since 2013, pro-government mobs have repeatedly targeted perceived enemies; since the coup attempt, mass rallies and a militant language of martyrdom and defiance has become a staple of Erdogan’s rule. The government’s narrative and a compliant press describe a proud Turkey that must be defended against traitors, terrorists, and a duplicitous West. Erdogan has weaponized long-standing elements of Turkish nationalism into a new culture of mass mobilization, one that represents a fundamental change in Turkish political culture. In the past, popular ceremonies and rallies only highlighted loyalty to the state; today, mass mobilization is seen as coequal, or even superior, to state power. It is a powerful weapon, but the risk of it being turned against peaceful opposition or simply spiraling out of control into broader violence is very real,” Eissenstat also wrote in December 2017.
As a final reflection, for those Alices going down the rabbit hole chasing rabbits, including Davutoglu, Gul, Babacan or the “Turkey Alliance” comments by Erdogan and his wretched press, Nicholas Danforth of the German Marshall Fund said in a series of tweets: “It’s entirely possible that [the claimed division and discontent within the AKP right now] is completely true, I just wish people writing this piece[s] would acknowledge it was also written repeatedly after elections in 2015 and 2017.
“In any case, the Western media has now anointed Imamoglu as the new savior of Turkish democracy, following the Gezi generation, Abdullah Gul, Selahattin Demirtas, probably Abdullah Gul again, and then Muharrem Ince. Not to mention Erdogan before any of them. There were plenty of AKP ‘insiders’ urging Erdogan to draw the right lessons after his loss in June 2015. Guess what? They're not AKP insiders anymore. You can certainly make the case for why things will be different this time—a number of people have quite articulately—but it’s a stronger case if you acknowledge why these expectations were dashed before.”
Matter of liberty or incarceration
To be fair, there are some differences each time we live through this cycle, but they don’t produce different results thanks to Erdogan’s uncanny instinct for dealing with any emerging threats to his rule. Not losing his place at the helm is possibly a matter of liberty or incarceration for Erdogan and his family because there is a long list of alleged crimes that have taken place during his 17 years in charge that opponents would dearly love to try him for.
The differences that Erdogan must this time deal with in the wake of an election result that became a referendum verdict on his rule, opening up vulnerabilities, are several. They include a marked draining of his economic power and leverage now that the Fed is ending monetary easing, the deterioration of his several rows with the Trump administration and the fact that Imamoglu has become a clear and present danger with popular support. But perhaps the most serious-as-much-as-fragile peril he faces is the fact that the Kurds—where there were no HDP candidates standing—tactically voted for the CHP in municipal polls including that of Istanbul. And that was despite all the attempts at divisiveness employed by the executive president as he dished out his angry rhetoric day after day, rally after rally on the stump. But it’s wise to note—dispiriting as it may be—that he might find that Kurdish dilemma addressed relatively easily should violence be fuelled in the country.
Whatever tactical and strategic issues are playing on his mind these days, rest assured that with Erdogan the plot never does anything but thicken. “It is likely that [Erdogan’s] desire to purchase the Russian-made S-400 Air Defense System—a significant source of tension between Turkey and NATO—is based in part on fear of a repeat of the attacks suffered during the 2016 coup attempt,” Eissenstat also observed in December 2017.