İştar Gözaydın: There is no turkish opposition now

At a time when Turkey often fills the front pages with stories of immigration, the war with the PKK and other troubling issues we asked İştar Gözaydın, a well-known professor of Law and Politics from the Department of Sociology at Gediz University, Izmir, about the long-term trends and problems in Turkey. Is there an opposition in Turkey? Where is the country heading? Is there a remedy for the current ailments of the country, which used to be given as a model example to other countries in the region? Find possible answers in our interview.

Is there any viable political opposition in Turkey at the moment?
It depends on where you look. Certainly there are opposition parties: the CHP, the so-called social democrats, happen to be one of the opposition parties. The ultranationalist party MHP is yet another one, and then there is the pro-Kurdish party HDP. But do they function? That’s the question, I think, that’s got to be asked, especially after the recent elections in November. The results were quite a surprise. I think none of the parties, including the ruling party, and none of the actors expected to have such a result. Forty nine and a half percent (for the ruling party AKP - ed.) was quite something high.

I believe that there is no opposition for the moment because of various reasons. First of all the ruling party is the majority in the parliament and they usually take the MHP group beside them. So that makes even a larger group. And then the opposition parties obviously do not meet the standards that they should, in terms of opposition. To put it briefly, if you ask me, there is no opposition for the moment. At least there is no efficient opposition.

And is there an opposition in the area of civil organisations? Or public discontent?
Certainly. We are talking about 49.5% of voters supporting the ruling party, which means that there are 50.5% of them remaining. That means half and half at least. So there is discontent, that’s for sure, but does that discontent happen to be expressed? – No, because of various reasons.

First of all, the freedom of expression is very much limited. There is a huge pressure on the media. You may have followed it. Some of the media organisations have been silenced. They were shut down. In my view that was totally illegal, but nevertheless it has been done. Yet again it’s just a period. I don’t think that it will remain this way, but it’s a transition period. And for this period there is not much possibility of the NGOs, the media, the opposing individuals or groups, whatever, voicing their opinion. And also there is a … well, I should use the word … some sort of a civil war going on in the east. That’s yet another reason.

Has the civil war in the east disrupted the legitimacy the HDP had?
Unfortunately, yes. The HDP became a huge hope after the June elections. It was wonderful for them to pass the threshold. And it was very hopeful for quite many people who preferred to have a more democratic parliament. Unfortunately, meanwhile, through some sorts of dirty political games, the HDP has been sort of pushed aside. But that has not only to do with the government, but also with the PKK. I believe that there have been quite many talks behind doors, that kind of thing. And I think the terror that has been rising before the elections of November 1, 2015 was a sign of it. I mean whatever is happening in the east is absolutely terrifying, but I think that it’s because of a consent of various groups with the aim to sort of push the HDP from the political arena.

But once this was started, is there a chance that the conflict will cease again?
Nothing is endless. I mean everything has an end, but who knows what will be the consequences? It’s not an easy process. Certainly it will cease in one way or another, but the outcomes are not easy to recover.

People I interviewed prior to this had this huge fear that before it ceases, it will spread to the western part because large parts of the Kurdish population moved west.
I don’t think that will happen. And, first of all, I find it to be incredibly highly hypocritical to “be afraid that these things would spread to the western part”. I mean what is happening is happening and it doesn’t matter whether it is in the east or west. But I don’t think that it will spread to the metropolises or anything like that. That is, I think, part of the politics as well - to keep it in the east, in those particular parts - so I am not afraid of it spreading to a larger geographical area, but as it is, it is horrifying.

Apart from the HDP, there was another group that was criticising the government called the Hizmet Movement. Is there any space left for them to voice their criticisms now, or were they totally silenced?
It appears that in Turkey they’re quite silenced. Yes, they do have their newspaper; however, that’s almost all that they have. The rest of the media has lost its voice. Yet the Hizmet group is a group that, as you may know, is not organised just in Turkey, but all over the world. So what I believe is that the rest of the world will be sort of functioning, as it should be, whereas most probably in Turkey it will be more of a silent period to say the least. But I find it to be an opportunity for the group to reflect and to reconsider the concepts of democracy, the concepts of politics, etc., which I find quite beneficial.

Is this because they followed the same line as the AKP for so long?
Quite a long time, yes. The groups have been supporting each other, but after a certain period it seems that their alliance is falling apart. And after the separation, there has been some sort of a witch-hunt - that’s the right word. Especially after the accusations, which I believe are very well-grounded, of corruption, etc. on behalf of the government, there has been a huge struggle between the groups. But currently it seems that the government sides have been the more powerful sides in this struggle, though maybe it only seems to be that way. They have the means and the political majority to certainly amend the forces of the police, etc.

Mentioning the divisions in the society, don’t the external pressures like ISIS or Russia make it easier to find a common voice?
In the case of ISIS, I doubt it. I mean ISIS is quite problematic in the sense of, well, on the surface they seem to be fighting with ISIS, though who knows what is really happening? When it comes to Russia it’s something else. I mean with Russia we’ll see how things will develop, but has this been a glue, if that’s what you’re asking? Especially in the case of Russia, I don’t know. Yes, nationalistic politics are quite common in Turkey, but who knows? I mean, there are so many other interests there as well. There is a huge group of people who are doing trade with Russia, who are working in Russia, who are entrepreneurs in Russia. So it’s quite interesting to watch all these interests, and see how all these interests will be working in terms of taking a position in that context.

One of the moments when it seemed that different groups of people stood side by side in Turkey was the Gezi protests… at least to me as an outsider. Were there any outcomes of those protests?
Unfortunately, no. It’s been quite interesting to see that so many people from different backgrounds, from different perspectives, came together, etc. That was quite a spirit. But I don’t think that there has been a significant outcome. It’s been sort of suppressed and after that quite many people got disillusioned, and I don’t think that there has been a significant consequence.

But there is a more harsh attitude on the part of the government nowadays. They’re pushing more against the opposition. Isn’t that the outcome?
Well, yes, in a sense you’re right. Since then they’ve been much more intolerant to all kinds of opposition, but I mean it’s just sort of coincidental, I guess. Nevertheless they would be. That’s the trouble of political culture in Turkey. I mean it’s not only the AKP doing it. Unfortunately almost all the groups in the political arena have something to do with it. Whoever thinks that they have the majority seems to be representing the absolute truth. That is the problem, I guess. So the AKP is just yet another group that’s been reflecting that problem. That shouldn’t be the case. The one and only thing that’s being needed is democracy, and democracy actually requires the voice of the minority, especially the weakest minority. Still, nobody seems to be aware of it. So coming to that point should be, in my view, the aim.

Despite all this the support for the AKP is high. As was said before, there were surprisingly many votes for the AKP in the last elections. Where does that come from? Is it just because the media was silenced?
No, I don’t think that it’s a consequence of the media being silenced or anything like that. Groups that have not joined the voting process for various reasons in the June elections did so on November 1st. So that’s one thing. Other than that, there has been quite a shift, especially because of the impression of Turkey having problems in terms of economics and problems of instability all over the country. They have been very successful in creating that impression by pointing to the rising terrorist acts, etc. So most of the people who believed that they needed stability - both economic and political - voted for the AKP. And there were also the votes from MHP voters, who have been disillusioned by their own party and preferred to vote for the AKP as well. Various combinations made the results, but taking away the media’s voice doesn’t have something to do with it, I think.

Is a part of the AKP’s success also the return to religion?
No, no, I don’t think so. They’ve always been pro-religion from the very beginning. The Turkish voter is predominantly quite conservative, but I don’t think it has something to do with the religion. I mean, Turks’ve been known to be religious. Religiosity has always been on the plate. So, it’s not something new.

Yet is there any push forward in this area? It has been on the plate, as you said, but is it more present now?
It seems to be, but these are problematic concepts. I mean, what is it to be more religious? Certainly every government and every political power which has a say in the public space has some sort of political agenda. For example, back in the 1930s obviously the decision-making elites of the republic, the founding elites of the republic, imagined a society that they wanted to create, and they had this imagined society in their minds for the Turkey that they wanted to establish. And they did everything they could in order to create that society, including using means of legislation, several policies, politics, etc.

The interesting point here is that the AKP is doing almost a very similar thing. Especially Erdogan has an imagined community in his mind. And in order to create that community, he is using all the policies, politics, legislations, etc. as well. So yes, religiosity is on the plate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all those groups happen to be more religious. What being religious is should be scrutinised. Yes, on the surface there is religiosity, but for example, especially when you think about corruption, etc…. you will find that ethics have nothing to do with it, and morals have nothing to do with it. It’s a religiosity that’s been knocked down to the level of sorts of rituals, nothing more than that.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of market dynamics going on with the consumption, with the acceleration of the consumption, etc. Yet another group of people which consumes, which is very much into the capitalist system, etc. has been produced. All these factors have to be scrutinised if one wants to talk about means of religiosity. So it is a religiosity at first glance, but you have to look much deeper in order to say that.

And in the current situation, how is it with women? Has their role changed?
We must consider all the “yeses” and “no’s” when trying to answer this question. I mean women have been quite active, especially in the elections, etc., etc., but still the percentage of women in the parliament and etc. show that nothing much changed. Back in the June elections it was much more interesting to see the situation, in the HDP especially, and with the wave and the wind of the HDP, the CHP also nominated quite a few women. But in this very last election, the numbers have dropped down. So, we must consider all the “yeses” and “no’s”. But I believe there is a current change in the situation of women. So it would be very interesting to observe the influences of women now and in the coming years as well in order to understand the change - especially the change in more religious/conservative circles.

Another internationally followed matter is that of the refugees. How does it influence Turkey?
Europe doesn’t want to get into encounters with these refugees, and Turkey happens to be a safe ground for keeping them where they are. So in order to achieve the goal of keeping them in Turkey, obviously, it seems that the Europeans are willing to close their eyes or look in the other direction regarding some problems in Turkey. And this is the international politics. I mean that kind of hypocrisy happens everywhere and every time. So, that’s not something to be surprised at.

And, obviously, Turkey received all those funds in order to look after the refugees. It is a huge issue human-wise and in the social context as well. We’ll see the outcomes in time. Not in the short term, but in the mid term and the long term, the consequences, which don’t seem to be bright at all to me, will come out. But very recently, if you have noticed, very very recently, a couple of days ago, Erdogan was giving a talk and he was mentioning that Turkey would not be … those were exactly the words he was using … would not be feeding the refugees for the rest of their lives. He was sort of proposing some ways to handle the situation, including a kind of a settlement between Turkey and Syria. This means that in the current state of things, it is a human shield kind of thing. If you happen to be placing them and settling them there, it just means using them as a human shield. This is just yet another disgusting policy.

I was now reading a report from Hacettepe University, which talked about the fact that Turkish people feel a responsibility for the Syrians and that they should not send the Syrians back to the war to be killed. Yet a finding of the report was that according to the citizens in Turkey, there are many cultural differences with Syrians, and the popular discontent regarding keeping them in the country for the long term is higher than anybody envisaged in the beginning.

Unfortunately, when it comes to interests, to economic interests, to geopolitical opportunities, etc., these are all the sources and all the stamps of all sorts of discrimination, unfriendly attitudes, etc. That’s part the reason for the uprising of right-wing reactions or nationalist reactions in the West, for example. I mean these have to do with economic interests as well. So, when you look at the local level with all these bla-bla’s about brotherhood or sisterhood, whatever, there is always the clash of work opportunities, plus, unfortunately, these people are getting employed with low wages and without any social rights or anything, since they do not have a legal status. These things are, unfortunately, also types of micro-politics as well. The micro-politics depend on the place. For example, there are places where negative reactions have been displayed. There are some places which prefer to employ the refugees while giving them low wages, etc. So, it depends. But in the end the situation and its outcomes don’t seem to be bright at all in general.

About İştar Gözaydın

"Istar Gozaydin is a well-known professor of Law and Politics. She is currently working in the Department of Sociology, Gediz University, Izmir. She studied at the New York University School of Law and Georgetown University International Law Institute, and holds an LLD degree from the Istanbul University.Prof Gozaydin also produces and presents program aired by Acik Radyo (Open Radyo), in Istanbul since 1995.She is focusing on the relations between religion and state in modern Turkey. Her research interests cover modernity and modernisation; nation, nationalism, and state formation and history, politics,law and society of Turkey and human rights."

Interviewed by:

Kristýna Tamchynová, Doctoral Degree Student of Jan Masaryk Centre for International Studies, University of Economics, Prague and PR and Conference Service employee at the Institute of International Relations.