For decades during the Cold War, Turkish nationalism embodied the domestic fighting wing of NATO in Turkey. As the threat of communism was extinguished by 1991, nationalists lacked clear references to act politically. Even if the PKK’s terrorist activities seemed to be the new focal point of nationalist discourse, it was too risky to play a direct role in this fight since it would have triggered inter-ethnic conflicts between Turks and Kurds
by Sinan Baykent
[Katehon] For decades during the Cold War, Turkish nationalism embodied the domestic fighting wing of NATO in Turkey. As the threat of communism was extinguished by 1991, nationalists lacked clear references to act politically. Even if the PKK’s terrorist activities seemed to be the new focal point of nationalist discourse, it was too risky to play a direct role in this fight since it would have triggered inter-ethnic conflicts between Turks and Kurds.
Nationalists gained momentum in 1998, when PKK leader Öcalan was captured and brought back to Turkey. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) entered the parliament as the second largest party, obtaining nearly 20% of the total vote. Nevertheless, the trust granted to MHP by the people was deceived. Devlet Bahçeli, who is still the leader of MHP, broke his promise to hang Öcalan and stepped back in the face of EU and US pressure. This decision caused great disillusion in the masses and cost the MHP nearly half of its initial votes in 2002. Since then, Turkish nationalism stumbled, trying to find a raison d’être of its own. This state of confusion lasted until July 15th, 2016.
The coup attempt of July 15th reshaped Turkish politics from long to wide. On the terrible night of July 15th, Bahçeli was the first statesman to reject the coup, saying his party was standing in full solidarity with the government. During the Yenikapı meeting organized on July 26th, Bahçeli said: “Let’s show how strong Turkey is to the United States. Let’s show them how unified and how alive we are!” (1)
In fact, Bahçeli was on the edge of confronting potential chaos in his party before the coup attempt. Internal opposition was growing everyday. Even his closest associates such as Yıldırım Tuğrul Türkeş and Oktay Vural were leaving him, resigning from their functions and even quitting the party. Today, however, he’s the pivotal figure of the Turkish political scene.
While many Turkish analysts claim that Bahçeli is becoming a mere satellite of the AK Party, I think it is the quite opposite. Bahçeli is the one who brought up issues such as the recovery of the struggle against the PKK, the restoration of the death penalty and the referendum on switching Turkey’s regime to a presidential system. On all these topics, it was only after Bahçeli’s green light that the AK party managed to activate its own political agenda.
Chronologically, Tuğrul Türkeş was the first mainstream nationalist politician to see that Turkey was facing a great danger in terms of national security. When Türkeş moved to the AK party in August 2015, as the eldest son of Alparslan Türkeş, the founder of MHP, his move was harshly criticized at the time. Nevertheless, while explaining his decision, Tuğrul Türkeş argued as follows:
“The actual MHP direction is careless. Enemies of our state and our people are swarming all over our motherland. In spite of pointing their gun at them, they’re taking aim at me! What kind of nationalists are they?” (2)
Indeed, even when he was Bahçeli’s deputy-chair, Türkeş was the only party member to warn about the Gülenist “parallel state”. When expressing his stance concerning a police operation at the Gülenist “Zaman” newspaper’s headquarters in Istanbul, Türkeş wrote the following tweets:
“Those who plotted against the army years ago now demand justice. Those who were saying ‘these fellows aren’t jailed because they’re journalists but because they’re terrorists’ now defend press freedom. Justice for all.” (3)
Türkeş was clearly referring to the Ergenekon trials designed by the Gülenists to overthrow the Turkish army’s nationalist and anti-imperialist cadres. Whereas Bahçeli was promoting a policy of “equilibrium” towards Gülenists back then, Türkeş was already making his point loud and clear. When Türkeş left the MHP to join AK, Bahçeli was literally enraged. Today, he is walking in Türkeş’s footsteps.
As I emphasized before, Tuğrul Türkeş is the eldest son of Alparslan Türkeş, the legendary “commander” (Başbuğ, in Turkish) of the Grey Wolves (Bozkurt, in Turkish). Despite his ideological imperfections, Alparslan Türkeş personified a school of thought, a tradition, and a political vision. Tuğrul Türkeş was surely one of his first students, his first disciples. During the Cold War, it was maybe wiser for Turkish nationalists to act under the umbrella of NATO given the difficult conjuncture of that time. However, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially after 9/11, a New World Order was being drawn. As the international paradigm shifted, nations’ interests evolved. Old enemies suddenly became trustworthy friends whereas ancient allies quickly turned into dreadful antagonists.
The coup attempt of July 15th changed important features in classical Turkish politics. However these changes are not deep enough. Turkey needs a radical transformation of its bilateral relations with the US. The Gülenist murderers acted on behalf of US and the world knows it. It’s not enough to ask for the extradition of Gülen. Turkey should get out of NATO as quickly as possible and shut down the Incirlik military base. Firm decisions on these two issues are vital.
As Turkish nationalists get closer to Erdoğan (or should we say that Erdoğan is getting closer to us), a new national order should be established. It’s time for nationalists, who are actually the main locomotive of change in Turkey, to abandon their Cold War positioning and espouse a revolutionary attitude concerning domestic and foreign topics.
Turkish nationalism should reform itself from within. A new approach towards Kurds and religious minorities is required. Nationalism in a country has a meaning only when and if it takes under consideration national demographics, sociology, and culture. Nationalists are also called to revise their economic policies. Financial capitalism is no longer and has never been a sustainable model for growth. Above all, we must put our national interests before destructive American profits.
A hundred years ago, Western imperialists drew the borders in the Middle East, which is why we continue to suffer even today in the 21st century. Peoples and nations throughout the world are awakening. So are the Turkish people. Just as it did one century ago, nationalism represents once again the main dynamic of change. Except that this time, we should be wiser and craftier. Nowadays, there’s only one true motto to adopt for all national movements across the globe:
“Down with the international masonic plot! Down with Zionist imperialism! All oppressed nations of the world, unite!”