Turks turn on each other in dangerous reminder of violent past - columnist

Turkey’s increasing polarisation along conservative and secular lines is showing signs of being a “slow-fuse time bomb” and is a dangerous reminder of Turkey’s violent past, columnist Burak Bekdil wrote for Algemeiner

Bekdil said that this polarisation, between supporters and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “during the 18 years of uninterrupted Islamist rule is showing signs of being a slow-fuse time bomb. In Turkey today, the ‘political other’ is not merely a rival but a traitor, an enemy within”.

Bekdil said this enmity was a reminder of the period between 1976 and 1980 in Turkey, when political violence carried out by far-left and far-right groups killed over 5,000 people - which only came to an end with the 1980 military coup. 

Bekdil said the wearing of burial shrouds in 2014 by Erdoğan supporters taking to streets sent a message that they were ready to kill and die for their leader.

Bekdil also mentioned a proposed plan in October 2016 by Turkey’s religious affairs general directorate, the Diyanet, to form youth branches as part of Turkey’s mosques. Bekdil described this as raising fears that it would be a “Turkish version of the Nazi Party’s Hitler Youth”. While the youth branches were not formed, Bekdil said that “social media teems with organised ‘warriors of Islam’ threatening bloodshed”.

Bekdil also cited various other incidents - including threats by a commentator and anchor on the pro-Erdoğan Akit TV channel that: “If we start killing civilians we will start with … [he named three Istanbul neighbourhoods known for their liberal, secular lifestyles]…There are too many traitors [to be killed]. Even in parliament.”

In April 2019, the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was attacked by an angry, pro- Erdoğan mob and nearly killed. The main attacker, a farmer and an official member of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), served no time in jail.

Bekdil said that, only a month before the lynching attempt, an Akit TV reporter said on air: “It is my opinion that Turkish public opinion wants the likes of Kılıçdaroğlu to be executed, to hang.”

More recently, a social media user told Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu - a member of Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party - that he would make the mayor drink his own blood. The social media user was detained but then quickly released.

In May, a female television commentator said: “We stand by our leader (Erdoğan). We won’t let anyone harm him. My family alone can [kill] 50 people. I have my list [of enemies] ready. There are even three to five neighbours on the list.” When asked if that speech constituted an offence, the head of the broadcast watchdog said: “Well…let’s not overdo this issue.”

Bekdil said that Erdoğan hoped polarisation would have a vote-boosting effect for him by consolidating his core support. 

“He’s probably right. He is wrong, however, if he thinks he will be able to control the aftermath when one insane ‘shrouded’ soul commits an irrevocable violent act,” Bekdil said.