Increasing political violence in Turkey recalls dark days of the 1990s

Violence directed at political opponents of the Turkish state has been on the increase recently, with the Deputy Head of the Future Party being violently attacked in his car, a day after threats from the Deputy Head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) against him.

The Future Party’s Selçuk Özdağ was attacked by 5 people as he got into his car in Ankara on Jan. 15, according to Duvar. Özdağ was immediately taken to hospital for treatment after losing a lot of blood.

Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who leads the Future Party, said in a statement that "We're waiting for a statement from the president about this attack on a politician with whom he's personally worked".

This attack was followed shortly by one on Orhan Uğuroğlu, the Ankara correspondent for opposition nationalist newspaper Yeniçağ, who was also attacked as he got into his car. According to Duvar, the assailants told the journalist, "We are from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Stop criticizing the MHP. The nationalists will find you." 

Another former MHP ally and member of the party’s militant youth wing, the Grey Wolves, was also reportedly attacked on Thursday.

Selçuk Özdağ was pictured at the hospital being treated for his injuries. It is notable that the news of the attack was not being covered by any mainstream Turkish media.

The rise of political violence, clearly directed by MHP cadres towards, is a painful reminder of the frequency of political assassinations in the 1980s and 1990s. Journalists like Uğur Mumcu, Metin Göktepe and Ahmet Taner Kışlalı were targeted specifically because of their work, while Cem Ersever, a former member of right wing paramilitary group JITEM, was murdered after he started speaking to the press. Wikipedia’s List of assassinated people from Turkey is already far too long.

What could the violence by MHP affiliates towards their former allies mean in the current context? The MHP is signalling that it will not tolerate criticism of their party leader, especially if coming from former allies. All three attacks, in these recent violent incidents, appear to be inflicted on those coming from nationalist roots who had a falling out with the MHP. Ahmet Davutoğlu has asked "who is next?" He has also gone as far as to say that he blames President Erdoğan for the violence.

There have been reports that the AKP is worried its coalition partner MHP’s voter share is dropping and might be looking for other partners ahead of possible elections which could be called. Within this context, the MHP could be using intimidation to keep the various nationalists within its own coalition together by targeting former allies who have left and become critical of the party. 

Only recently, MHP linked mafia leaders, most prominently Alaattin Cakici, were openly threatening the main opposition CHP party leader with physical violence with no consequences whatsoever. Therefore, the impression is, threatening or inflicting violence on opposition figures have no consequences. It was reported on Friday that three suspects have been arrested for the attack on Orhan Uğuroğlu, so perhaps this time there will be consequences for some of the attackers.

Whatever the ultimate reason for this surge in political attacks, Turkey has been more vulnerable to political violence in periods of greater political movement, such as during the late 70s and 90s. The use of violence could therefore signal that the ruling coalition is worried that its political power is decreasing, and is aiming to use violence to deter defectors and opponents.

At the moment, the nationalist thugs are only dispensing severe beatings to their opponents, but the worry is that they may soon go further as political tensions increase in the run up to a potential general election.