[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
You might have been following the events in Syria. In a nutshell, the country’s corrupt, dictatorial and brutal regime has killed more than 2,000 unarmed protestors in the past six months. And it seems willing to kill more and more.
This shameless violence put the Turkish government, which had come to the point of “zero problems” with Syria before this year, in a difficult position. To its credit, though, Ankara raised an increasingly harsh voice against the crimes of Bashar al-Assad and co. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the “barbarism” of the regime, and more recently said Turkey was “losing patience” with the ongoing onslaught. (My personal message to Damascus is simply, “God damn you, you thugs,” but I understand that governments have to be a bit more diplomatic.)
This week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu flew to Damascus, in a much colder tone than before, to warn Assad that he will either behave or “end up like Moammar Gadhafi.” Syrian tanks left Hama after that meeting, reports say, although Turkey keeps “monitoring” the situation.
Tool of the West
Meanwhile, though, an interesting criticism of the Turkish government came from Turkey’s main opposition party, the all-secularist Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and that is what I really want to probe today. The party’s leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, criticized the government for simply being too harsh on Syria. He said that Erdoğan’s “we-are-losing-our-patience” statement was just “words uttered before a war,” and such outbursts could deal “a heavy blow” to Turkey’s image in the region.
In an exclusive interview with the Hürriyet Daily News, Kılıçdaroğlu also depicted the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as a “tool” of Western powers. “The Western powers now want to punish Syria. And using whom?” he asked, obviously referring to Erdoğan and Davutoğlu.
I bet that rhetoric would make both Damascus and Tehran happy. But it made Turkey’s secular liberals, who have higher hopes for Kılıçdaroğlu, quite disappointed. One such figure, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a columnist for daily Milliyet and a strong advocate of putting more pressure on the Syrian regime, wrote a piece titled, “The CHP made me very surprised.”
“The CHP, which promotes a ‘contemporary’ Turkey, needs to defend human rights and democratic values,” argued Ms. Aydıntaşbaş, “not dictatorship.” But the “isolationist” rhetoric of Kılıçdaroğlu, which resonated with anti-EU and anti-U.S. paranoia, she argued, was quite the opposite.
Strange but true
I, for my part, fully agree with Ms. Aydıntaşbaş’s criticism of Kılıçdaroğlu. But, unlike her, I think such a delusional CHP might actually be a good thing for Turkey.
I am not totally kidding, and let me explain why. Until recently, I have been among the people who believed that Turkey needs a more liberal, open-minded and globalist opposition than what the CHP has represented. If the secularists challenge the AKP from such a “progressive” ground, rather than a terrible synthesis of obsessive secularism and xenophobic nationalism, I thought, the AKP would be pushed for more progress.
But politics does not always work according to such rational calculations. Especially in Turkey, it actually works quite irrationally. The opposing political camps hardly benefit from each other’s criticisms. They rather tend to do the exact opposite of what the other camp says.
Lately, we have seen this during the election campaign. The CHP tried to sound a bit liberal on a few issues, such as the Kurdish question, and that had a very negative impact on the AKP, which was quickly pushed to use more nationalist rhetoric. In a similar fashion, Kılıçdaroğlu’s “anti-imperialist” tone on Syria seems to have helped the conservatives in the past few days get closer to the view of Turkey’s Western allies.
So, since the CHP and its secularist base have no chance of coming to power anytime soon, the best thing they can do, I think, is to keep on being illiberal, isolationist and irrational. That will really help the AKP camp to grow more liberal, globalist and reasonable. I know it is silly and strange; but it is just true.