Against all the odds and the predictions of the analysts and intellectuals, Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won back the majority they had lost in the June election. Even those who predicted that AKP will win back the majority were surprised by the fact that AKP won 317 seats in a nine percent increase in the votes.
Even though the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) saw some decline in votes, it was the right-wing National Movement Party (MHP) that lost half of their support and now maintain only 40 seats of the 80 seats they gained in June.
In the first few days after winning back the majority of votes, Erdogan resumed cracking down on dissidents, and killing civilians and guerillas in the Kurdish majority Southeast.
The country that was steadily moving forward in the early twentieth century and had aspirations to join the European Union is now moving away from progress.
The election results were unpredictable because many analysts believed that Erdogan’s strategies in creating instability would backfire and Turks will disappoint him (AKP) in the elections. Turkish citizens, however, worried about their safety and economy and changed their minds about their June ballots and voted Erdogan back to power.
But what caused such a significant change in election results from June to November?
What analysts underestimated was how deeply polarized Turkey is, and has been.
Even though the Ottoman Empire was ethnically and religiously diverse, the nationalism that the Turkish Republic's founder, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk introduced and fostered is driven by a lack of acceptance.
In the 1920s, Turkish became the only legal language in a country where people spoke many different languages. For example, Kurds are a sizable majority in Turkey (roughly 10-15 percent) whose mother tongue was banned outright until only a few years ago. In the 1940s and 1950s, Kurds’ existence was summarily denied, and their distinct culture became condemned and referred to as “mountain Turks” or "eastern Turks who forgot their language."
This policy of marginalization has roots deep in Turkish history
From an early age, Turkish nationalism with its emphasis on exclusion is engrained into the minds of the school children. Regardless of what ethnic or religious group they belong to, children have to say their pledge of allegiance every morning before class. “I am Turkish,” they have to scream at the top of their voice before entering their classrooms, and “Happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” affirmed by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in the early days of Republic of Turkey, continues to be a popular motto among Turks.
Within a culture where Turkish identity is not just the superior culture, but the only fully accepted culture, it is no surprise that many Turks grow up hating Kurds and other minorities. Turkish society rarely debates why these groups continue to be persecuted.
The Turkish journalist, Asli Aydintasbas, wrote in the New York Times about her generation of Turks. “Instead of questioning why Kurds weren’t allowed to speak their own language, live in their own villages or sing their own songs, we blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which had been waging a guerrilla war against Turkey since 1984, for all of Turkey’s woes.”
With deep-rooted hatred, it is clear why Turks turned a blind eye or sided with their government when in the '90s Turkey committed horrendous atrocities in the Southeast. Turkish army burned down Kurdish villages, arrested, tortured and killed thousands of civilians and guerillas.
The wound from the terror of those days runs deep in the veins of the country. Hundreds of murders have remained unsolved. Turkish Colonel Cemal Temizoz’s case, under review since 2009 for murdering 21 Kurds, was dismissed this week by an Istanbul court. In 2012, the Council of Europe saw the legal case as an “opportunity to shed light on a period of systematic human rights abuses in southeast Turkey.”
However, no light was shed. Three decades ago 40,000 people were killed, mainly Kurds, and no one has been brought to justice.
“Turkey has a history of impunity for the state’s forces…Denying justice for its citizens means the wounds cannot heal,” Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch told AP. Not only Erdogan does not want the wounds to heal, but also he triggers them to divide and rule.
The periphery southeastern town Cizre was once again under seized in September and 20 civilians were killed in clashes between Turkey and the PKK. Re-seizing Cizre was a strategic move. It wasn’t just to put a town in around-the-clock curfew. This was a calculated move to invoke the horrors of the '90s, to trigger a historic pain and citizen’s emotions have been manipulated so a lost power can once again be regained. Erdogan tapped into Kurdophobia to win back his power without thinking about how that will damage his nation.
STATE OF EXCEPTION
Giorgio Agamben in State of Exception, talks about the post-September 11 era in America when President George W. Bush tried to produce a “situation in which the emergency becomes the rule, and the very distinction between peace and war (and between foreign and civil war) becomes impossible.”
In this case, the State of exception and emergency was just what Erdogan created to scare people into submission. The message was clear. If you want stability—Erdogan pointed out repeatedly—AKP will give it to you. “I hope our nation makes its choice for stability,” Erdogan said after casting his vote.
Erdogan’s strategy was also reminiscent of Niccolo Machiavelli’s politics of fear. In The Prince, Machiavelli writes that a ruler should be feared not loved:
“For men are less concerned with hurting someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, because love is held by a link of obligation which, since men are wretched creatures, is broken every time their own interests are at stake; but fear is held by a dread of punishment which will never leave you.”
In Machiavelli’s highly demoralized perspective, humans are by nature selfish and therefore, they have to be controlled by fear, not by morals. Erdogan might share some of that perspective especially now that he had his major comeback.
But Turkey’s real vote was the one cast in June when citizens were not breathing an air of terror and division.
LACK OF FREE EXPRESSION
Lack of free expression is the last major reason that affected the outcome of the November election. Fair elections cannot happen in a closed environment.
The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TNT) has reportedly discriminated in airtime between the ruling party and other parties.
“The TRT gave 30 hours of airtime to the AK Party over the past 25 days and 29 hours to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” said Ersin Ongel, a board member of a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
On the other hand, HDP was only given 18 minutes of airtime in Turkey’s main state broadcasting corporation! The MHP was provided one hour and 10 minutes in total, comparatively.
But this is not news. Turkey has a history of persecuting journalists. In 2012, Turkey was the world’s biggest prisons for Media. Throughout the years, numerous journalists have been imprisoned in Turkey because of their work, including Mohammed Ismael Rasool of Vice News as well as Dutch journalist Frederike Greerdink.
Thus, through creating a sense of emergency, stimulating old wounds, and stopping freedom of speech, Erdogan intimated Turkish citizens into submission but the price the country has yet to pay for this decision may be high.
Turkish citizens now enter greater uncertainty as Erdogan seem to be entering his country into a civil war by reinstating attacks on the armed Kurdish resistance group of PKK.
As the media will forget about Erdogan’s games and will focus on atrocities elsewhere, citizens in Turkey will have to deal with their President's insatiable thirst for power and his undemocratic ways.