By Mustafa Akyol
Within Turkey’s ruling elite – those who are either in or around the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – there are very few people left who can dare to say anything self-critical. One of them is Bülent Arınç, who is not only the current deputy prime minister, but also a member of the very trio (with Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül) who founded the AKP some 14 years ago.
Last weekend, Arınç joined a show on CNN Türk and made some remarks that came as a surprise to both the fans and opponents of the ruling party.
First, he said that Erdoğan has become a “folk hero” for millions of Turks, who have nothing but love and adoration for him. Yet, he reminded, these people make up half of the society. The other half, he acknowledged, are full of “hatred.” He also reminded that this was not the case during the earlier years of the AKP:
“When we used to go out on the streets, our supporters would love us very much whereas our opponents would respect us. Now I detect looks filled with hatred.”
But why did this “other 50 percent” accumulate so much hatred? Normally, the typical AKP answer to this question would be to say that this “other 50 percent” is packed with arrogant “coup” lovers, cunning traitors and even Zionist agents. In other words, it would be an answer that would fuel hatred within the AKP base against these “enemies within.” But Arınç said something different. “A cat would claw someone who comes upon it too much,” he said. He, in other words, acknowledged that the non-AKP part of society feels cornered by the AKP.
Other points Arınç made were also notable. He said politicians should not use a tone featuring “shouting, yelling and humiliating,” which was a veiled criticism of Erdoğan. Otherwise, he said, the AKP could preserve its “50 percent,” but Turkey itself would turn into an “ungovernable” country.
All these were very helpful comments, of course. But whether they will have any influence over the AKP empire is questionable. The person who sets the tone is not Arınç but Erdoğan, and we see no sign of change in his intentionally divisive, polarizing rhetoric.
Quite the contrary, we hear theoretical objections to Arınç by party ideologues who seem to believe that “cornering the cat” is precisely what the AKP should do. One example was a piece in daily Sabah, the self-declared standard bearer of the AKP’s “New Turkey,” whose headlined read, “What Arınç does not see.” According to the writer, Fahrettin Altun, Arınç just did not get that the AKP has not yet fulfilled its mission of “elite transformation” and “reckoning” with its foes.
It would be unfair to say that Turkey’s political culture of hate is simply an AKP-induced problem. It is rather a very deep-seated problem, whose roots go back to at least a century ago. No wonder severe polarizations also dominated Turkish politics in the previous decades, such as the 1950s, 1970s, or 1990s.
Yet still, the AKP could have offered a national reconciliation. It was even close to accomplishing that in its initial years. That was a time, as Arınç acknowledged, that even most of their political opponents respected them. Had they continued with the pragmatism, modesty, and compromise of that era, they could have healed the wounds of the past. Erdoğan could have become another Nelson Mandela.
But he opted for total domination. The result is the current republic of hatred that we are living in. And nobody really knows the way out.