Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s style of leadership is authoritarian. He does not like to be challenged and criticised. His confrontational and heavy-handed response to dissent is not limited to his opponents, either. Inside his government and party, differences of opinion are not tolerated. Mr Erdoğan takes individual control over all important decisions, based on his own beliefs and judgements. By-passing institutional structures and experienced civil servants, he surrounds himself with people that tell him what he wants to hear. Blind allegiance from those around him breeds both over-confidence and paranoia. A charismatic, infallible man of “iron will” starts seeing enemies at every corner. Opponents get labelled as traitors, tools of foreign powers, part of an international conspiracy to undermine Turkey as an emerging power in the region.
Authoritarian leaders strive for more and more power. In order to consolidate their own position, they divide and rule. . If creating new enemies does not prove to be enough, they revive the old fault lines.
Concentration on short-term objectives for immediate results comes before long-term security. Obstinate opportunists, they lack a compelling vision of where the country is heading. The strategy may be “deep” but it is not long-range.
The Prime Minister’s recent speeches exacerbating the Sunni-Alevi divide in the country is the latest and probably the most dangerous example of the government’s political expediency.
On May 24, Mr Erdoğan took his inflammatory rhetoric to Germany. In an election rally for thousands of expatriate Turks in Cologne, he described the counter-demonstrations in the city as sabotage. He referred to protestors as “Alevis without Ali”, meaning Alevis who are atheists.
After two people from their community were killed during a demonstration and a funeral in Istanbul, thousands of Alevis marched in rallies across Turkey calling for an end to discrimination and polarizing language against them. But the next day, the Prime Minister again targeted Turkey’s second largest religious community. Claiming that Alevis were gathered from various places and sent to Soma, where Turkey’s deadliest mine disaster took place earlier this month, to cause disturbances, Erdoğan said: “Matters related to Kurdish and Alevi citizens have always been seen as an opportunity to provoke society. … Let’s see this clearly: The same scenario has been used to attack Turkey for the past century. They are using it to weaken Turkey” Speaking at his parliamentary group on May 27, he also accused the main opposition, The Republican People’s Party (CHP) for exploiting Alevi sentiments and encouraging trouble.
On the eve of the first anniversary of the Gezi protests, the representatives of Alevi civil society organisations held a press conference in front of the Turkish Parliament.
In their statement, they protested police violence against Alevis, demanded their name should not be cited in relation to terrorism and called for equal citizenship rights for their community.
Stoking sectarian tensions in order to rally his party faithful may be politically expedient for a politician aiming for the presidential post but it is a highly dangerous and short-sighted move. Memories of sectarian killings in Sivas, Kahramanmaras are still fresh in Turkey, with those responsible still at large.
As well as being the day Gezi Protests started a year ago, the 28th of May is the 34th anniversary of the 1980 Corum massacre where 57 Alevis were killed; 300 injured.
Just like today; the government of the day then blamed the left-wing Alevis and the opposition Republican People’s Party.
The later evidence showed that the authorities were complicit or complacent in the violence instigated by the right-wing mobs.
In recent years, regional policies with sectarian undertones have done enough damage to Turkey’s image and influence abroad. Dividing the country into political camps and now deliberately fuelling the sectarian rifts may guarantee a short-term presidential victory for the Prime Minister and his party but its consequences for the country will be perilous and long-lasting.
As those protesting outside the Parliament said yesterday: Enough is enough!
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