Bahçeli and Çakıcı: the two men that rein in Turkey’s Erdoğan

Recent developments in Turkey have proven that there are limits to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers, with the country’s red-lines being drawn by his far-right junior coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli and his notorious mob boss friend Alattin Çakıcı, according to Hamit Bozarslan from Paris’s School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS). 

Bozarslan spoke with Ahval’s Yavuz Baydar on the significance of Bahçeli’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), its street organisation the Grey Wolves, and mafia leader Çakıcı, who is closely involved with the party, beyond the realm of parliamentary politics and within the metaphysics of Turkey. 

Erdoğan strives to keep his hold on power, attempting to rectify the economy as he cuts off his own son-in-law and announces judicial reforms, but even Turkey’s strongman is shown that he only has so much room to act in by MHP’s Bahçeli, according to Bozarslan. 

The red lines even Erdoğan, in all his might, can’t cross, the professor believes, are determined not by Turkey’s surface-level laws or institutions, but by Bahçeli and Çakıcı, who sees himself as “not above the law, but the law itself” – the true owner of the state.

Such is the current standing of the cartel-state as defined by Bozarslan – a web of state agencies, extra-state coercive forces from the extreme right, and mafia structures that have at their epicentre persons like Çakıcı as “the alpha and omega of the law.”

This is a historical pattern that emerges time and time again.

It emerged at the turn of the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire fell and the Republic of Turkey rose from its ashes, during the rise of left-wing politics in the 1960s, and the height of the war on Turkey’s Kurdish insurgents in the 1990s as well. 

Today, Bozarslan said, we witness a “much more brutal repetition” of such structures and patterns, involving Turkey’s “gangs in uniform,” which often had state officials at the helm. 

Erdoğan, while still the president, “has been reduced to silence. It is Çakıcı who determines the fate of Turkey.” Turkey’s foreign policy, especially in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, is also affected by such radical right-wing paramilitary structures, he believes.

These bodies have kept Erdoğan in power in recent years, destroying Kurdish towns like Cizre and Sur in the meantime.

The reason Erdoğan is still the president is that Bahçeli “would not reduce himself to be president. Presidency is just a function,’’ while the MHP leader “is the ultimate horizon.”

The far-right leader “has shown that politics in Turkey are not about legality,” according to Bozarslan, who maintains Turkey is shaped by the eternal state, whose essence is formed by Bahçeli.

Protectors, saviours of the Nation “cannot obey the laws,” by definition, because they “have a historical mission that can’t be constrained or delineated by any kind of juridical, institutional, constitutional form,” he said.

Every 10 to 15 years, a new generation of these saviours seem to activate in forms of coup d’etat, he said.