Turkey’s secular centre-left have a problem with peace
Turkey has a war problem. This problem does not only originate from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s militaristic ambitions, but rather through what you may call a culture of war endemic in the political system.
Political parties face a tough choice when it comes to criticising decisions of war for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the repressive patriarchal mindset of Turkish politics is just too deeply ingrained across the mainstream political spectrum with the clear exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP and smaller leftist political parties.
The centre right and more recently the authoritarian Islamist-nationalists of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), always saw war as an opportunity to push for authoritarian and repressive policies on the home front while using it as an opportunity to demand concessions from the West.
This is not surprising when one takes into consideration the intimate history between Turkey’s right wing Islamist-nationalist camp and the Western military industrial complex that always had a very loyal customer in Ankara. What is most upsetting to many naïve observers of Turkish politics is the seemingly illogical pro-war stance of Turkish social democrats, the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP).
The CHP has never had an anti-war position, not when Turkey decided to join the international coalition in Korea in 1951, definitely not in 1974 when Ankara intervened in Cyprus in the face of a Greek takeover of the island. It was the CHP government that took the initiative, and not during the 1990s when the low intensity war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in country’s southeast reached its peak.
What makes the CHP’s silence problematic now is that it comes at a time of heightened authoritarianism as Turkey slides into a one-man dictatorship under Erdoğan’s policy of war at home and war abroad. The main reason for the CHP’s reluctance is the party’s deep-rooted allegiance toward the Turkish Armed Forces, which it sees as the founding pillar and protector of the Turkish Republic. Social democrats blindly insist on equating anti-militarist, anti-war policies with being anti-army. It is almost a taboo for the CHP to criticise the Turkish Army.
The lack of a democratically minded main opposition party continues to hurt the future of political stability in Turkey.
Erdoğan is well aware of the CHP’s tendency for complicity in wars and as a result easily rules over a war coalition across the centre right and centre left of Turkish politics. When domestic opposition shies away from bringing up issues around the loss of civilian lives in Turkey’s Afrin offensive, the vacated democratic space gives way for a binary, totalitarian language that closes down any alternative narrative other than official militaristic discourse.
When addressing a question from a foreign journalist on the arrest of pro-peace activists in Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu responded by saying it was perfectly legal to defend peace, but unacceptable to criticise the war or the Turkish Armed Forces and their indirect role in the loss of civilian lives. This seemingly paradoxical statement seems to have been met with silence on the domestic front. And it is exactly this silence that normalises the escalation of violence in Turkey’s offensive in Syria.
When the AKP members of parliament are caught on camera laughing during the prayers for the fallen Turkish soldiers in Afrin, the CHP criticises the disrespect, completely avoiding discussing the necessity of the Afrin offensive in the first place.
Authoritarian regimes hate the idea of peace and do all within their capacity to ban the politics of peace as a legitimate avenue of democratic engagement.
Erdoğan’s government is very well aware of the fact that questioning the Afrin offensive also means questioning the legitimacy of the regime. The CHP, as the main social democratic opposition party, needs to reorient its priorities if it is serious about its criticism of the non-democratic nature of Turkish politics today. However, challenging authoritarianism requires political courage to look beyond conventional wisdom and defend truth against power.
In a toxic political environment where investigative journalism is under immense pressure, it is the duty of the social democrats to start asking why is it necessary for Turkey to continue its offensive in Syria. Otherwise asking Erdoğan and his parliamentarians to show respect for the lifeless bodies of fallen soldiers simply does not cut deep enough. Your responsibility is to defend the lives of those young soldiers in the first place so they do not have to lose their lives for a questionable adventure of conquest.