June 17, 2024
Turkey's New Violent Political Culture
In a most spectacular show of violence, fans of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in April nearly lynched Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party
In a most spectacular show of violence, fans of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in April nearly lynched Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party

In most civilized countries, citizens go to the ballot box on election day — be it parliamentary, presidential or municipal — cast their votes, go home to watch news reporting the results and go to work the next day, some happy, some disappointed, to live in peace until the elections. Not in Turkey, where any political race looks more like warfare than simple democratic competition.

One reason is the dominance of identity politics in the country that has its roots deep in the 1950s, when Turkey evolved into multi-party politics. The fighting between “us” and “them” goes on since then. At the heart of the matter is a culture that programs most less-educated masses (and in Turkey average schooling is 6.5 years) into a) converting the “other” and, if that is not possible, b) physically hurting the “other.” A deep societal polarization since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 has widened to frightening levels.

None of the incidents that opposition journalists are facing today is a coincidence. In September 2015, for instance, an angry group of AKP fans attacked the editorial headquarters of Hürriyet, Turkey’s largest newspaper, at that time an opposition media company. Smashing the building’s windows with sticks and stones, the crowd chanted: “Allah-u aqbar” (“God is great!”) as if they were in a religious war. In fact, they thought they were in one because Hürriyet at that time was a secular newspaper critical of Erdoğan. For a long time, security forces watched the incidents with only one police team. The crowd took down the flag of the Doğan Group (which then owned Hürriyet) and burned it. After repeated demands, extra police were dispatched. The AKP Istanbul deputy and the head of the AKP youth branch, Abdürrahim Boynukalın, was in the crowd. He announced on his Twitter account, “We are protesting false news in front of Hürriyet and we are reciting the Quran for our martyrs.” It was a jihad: attacking a newspaper…

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