Turkey’s ruling alliance uses U.S. riots to delegitimise opposition

As Washington D.C erupted in political strife last week, Turkish politicians in the ruling coalition have found a new way to tarnish the reputation of their opponents.   

Several Turkish politicians tied to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its partner far-right National Movement Party (MHP) took the D.C riots as an opportunity to rub past American criticisms of Turkey to respect democracy in their face.

On Wednesday, a violent mob of indignant supporters of United States President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building where members of Congress gathered to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the November presidential election. 

Official reactions from Turkey focused on urging calm. In a statement released Wednesday by the Turkish foreign ministry, urging for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

“We call on all parties in the U.S. to maintain restraint and prudence,” read the ministry statement. We believe the U.S. will overcome this internal political crisis in a mature manner.”

Fahrettin Altun, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s top communications aide, repeated this in a similar message, expressing a belief that the situation would resolve itself. 

"We maintain our belief that democracy will become operational as soon as possible with all its institutions and practices in the USA," Altun tweeted on January 7.

These official reactions however did not capture a widespread sentiment that the U.S had this coming. The speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Dr. Mustafa Sentop, captured this in his reaction to the riots on Wednesday. 

“We believe that problems will always be solved within law and democracy,” Sentop wrote on Twitter. “As Turkey, we have always been in favor of the law and democracy and we recommend it to everyone.” 

 

Other deputies went further. Many shared an image of American members of Congress taking cover as angry rioters attempted to breach the Capitol’s chamber alongside one of Turkish MPs standing in parliament on the night of the July 15, 2016 coup, mocking their courage.  

For those in Turkey mocking the United States amid its ongoing political tensions, there is a sense that their joyful reaction is justified by years of Washington’s lecturing respect for democracy. Relations between the two countries have also declined over recent years because of U.S policy in Syria, sanctions against Turkey for the purchase of a Russian missile system, and the continued refusal by American authorities to extradite exiled Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the attempted coup against Erdoğan. 

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be more vocal on human rights than President Trump, who considers Erdoğan his friend and whose administration has been mostly mute on criticising the weakened state of Turkish democracy.  Biden has already rankled Turkey’s political parties across the spectrum in remarks he made to the New York Times last January when he told the newspaper he’d support efforts to defeat Erdoğan. 

In light of this, there is a sense among Turks that the U.S is receiving its just desserts. However, there is also a particular resonance of Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, as well. News networks covering the U.S riots pointed to the deep political polarisation in the country, but there was little mention of Turkey’s own divisive politics. A recent survey conducted by Istanbul Bilgi University and the German Marshall Fund (GMF) found that the level of polarisation in Turkey has reached a point where it can make governing all the more difficult.    

There is also a case of projection as well. Some Turkish MPs in the ruling coalition found in the U.S’ trevails a new cudgel with which they could attack their opponents, particularly the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).  Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu condemned the breach of the Capitol as an “insurrection” that “refused the election results and targeted democracy.” However, some pro-government figures saw his criticism of the pro-Trump mob as hypocritical following remarks Kılıçdaroğlu made in a press conference where he referred to Erdoğan as a “so-called president”.

“The CHP leader, who was the apostle of democracy for the U.S presidential elections 3 days ago called our president who won every election 3 days later with 52% of votes “the so-called president” is a summary of the CHP,” tweeted Durdane Beyoglu, an AKP member from Diyarbakir. 

“CHP supporters, who have not spoken out about the Boğaziçi supporters for four days are shooting off at the lip about the developments in the United States. Why is that?” tweeted another MP, Selma Gökçen, referring to the student protests against an Erdoğan-appointed rector at Boğaziçi University. 

 

Kılıçdaroğlu was the first major Turkish politician to congratulate president-elect Biden, beating Erdoğan in doing so by three days. Several days later when speaking to the Middle East Institute’s Gonul Tol, Kılıçdaroğlu said that he’d like to see Biden “support democratic movements in Turkey,” prompting criticism from even members of his own party. After last week’s assault on the U.S Capitol, the meaning behind seeking and supporting U.S democracy has less to do with improving it in Turkey than it is an veiled call to undermine the state. 

“Why did you view the Turkish opposition as your relative, announcing to the world that it would be planning to topple the government while searching for democracy and the supremacy of the law in the United States?” tweeted MHP member Sayim Azmaz.