March 1, 2015

Disparaging language by gov’t officials feared to harm social cohesion

Top government officials' using dismissive and disparaging language towards the opposition and dissidents risk dealing a blow to social cohesion in Turkey as society becomes increasingly polarized.

This is what a top government official also indirectly admitted recently when he criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (ak party) for the harsh and divisive rhetoric it uses against opposition groups, expressing concern about the social polarization that has ensued.

“We receive 50 percent of the votes [in elections] but the other 50 percent [of society] has developed a rhetoric of hate [toward the AK Party],” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said in a television interview in early February.

Arınç expressed his concern as he elaborated on the issue, warning that the country may become unmanageable if the tension persists.

Noting that even sympathizers of opposition parties used to show respect for the ruling party, Arınç said: “I have observed that we [the AK Party] are now looked at with hatred. There is a division and polarization [in society]. … Turkey could turn into an ungovernable country. We [the AK Party] have to reduce tension [in society].”

Naturally, political tension can also be felt on the ground. It is not unusual in Turkey to see people suddenly come to blows for nothing, husband killing wife or women attacked and raped.

“The harsh and vulgar language does not only cause harm to parties in politics, it also leaves scars on the society, family, in everyday life, school and on the street,” Ertuğrul Günay, a deputy who resigned from the ruling party at the end of 2013 because of AK Party's dismissive discourse and authoritarian ways, has told Sunday's Zaman.

President Erdoğan became increasingly disturbed by all kinds of criticism after the Gezi Park protests that developed into anti-government demonstrations in the summer of 2013. The government felt seriously threatened by the nationwide protests caused by Erdoğan's insulting language towards all dissidents.

After which came two sweeping graft probes that went public in December of the same year. Four then-Cabinet ministers left their posts due to the probes that could have also implicated Erdoğan if they had not been dropped several months ago under government pressure.

Davutoğlu continues Erdoğan's polarizing discourse

Instead of reflecting on their conduct and confronting their mistakes, the government chose to attack the opposition and the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, claiming that the corruption investigation was a plot by “enemies.”

Günay also criticized Davutoğlu, who became prime minister after Erdoğan was elected president in August of last year, for following in Erdoğan's footsteps in directing harsh language at the opposition.

“He has chosen to become a copycat of Erdoğan instead of being himself,” Günay added.

Most analysts agree that by polarizing society, the ruling party hopes to retain its voter support despite becoming increasingly authoritarian in recent years and failing on various fronts ranging from foreign policy to the economy.

Following the probes the government did not hesitate to present the opposition and the Gülen movement -- inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen who preaches interfaith dialogue -- as the enemy.

Erdoğan has dismissed allegations of corruption despite blatant evidence, claiming that the graft probes and Gezi protests were part of a plot to oust the government.

Altan Tan, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is concerned that the harsh rhetoric politicians commonly use towards one another is dangerous for the future of the country.

“This language harms the country most”

Noting that a day almost never passes without Erdoğan insulting an opposition figure and that Davutoğlu is no different, he told Sunday's Zaman, “This language harms the country the most.”

Since the corruption probes, Erdoğan's harshest remarks have been reserved for the Gülen movement, which he has accused, without providing any evidence, of being behind the probes and functioning as a “parallel state.”

Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the corruption investigations but Erdoğan, Davutoğlu and some leading government officials have continued to hurl insults at the movement they had formerly praised.

The movement has been subjected to a defamation campaign and has been called the “treacherous gang of Pennsylvania” -- a reference to Gülen who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.

Since the graft probes, Erdoğan has on numerous occasions said -- in an obvious effort to stigmatize the movement while using it as a scapegoat -- that the government will enter the lair of the so-called “parallel structure.”

In December of last year, shortly before a government-orchestrated police operation against Turkey's two leading media outlets affiliated with the movement, Erdoğan said the government had entered “their lair.”

In a speech last April, shortly after emerging victorious in the local elections, Erdoğan effectively declared war against his opponents, saying that he would never forget what the opposition parties and their supporters had done attempting to topple his government.

He also threatened to take action against critical media outlets, slamming them for running what he calls “provocative headlines.” “We will not forgive these kinds of vile acts, this treason,” Erdoğan vowed.

During the almost month-long Gezi Park protests, which originated not only out of environmentalist concerns but more also s a result of a social reaction against Erdoğan's displeasing discourse towards all dissidents, Erdoğan also likened protestors to “piteous rodents” that work to harm Turkey.

Erdoğan “threatened” to pit AK Party sympathizers against Gezi protestors

Erdoğan, who was then prime minister, at that time refused to ease tensions and even threatened to pit his voters against the protestors.

Several days after the nation-wide demonstrations broke out at the end of May, Erdoğan said: “There is another 50 percent [that voted for the AK Party] that we are having difficulty keeping at home. We tell them ‘please be patient.'”

Only a couple of days after Erdoğan's remark, in Rize -- the province on the eastern Black Sea coast where Erdoğan is from -- a group of young people who wanted to make a public statement to support the Gezi Park protests were threatened by a crowd of some 500 people and had to seek shelter in a building for hours.

In yet another attempt to pit his followers against the protestors, Erdoğan claimed that during the protests a headscarved woman carrying her baby was attacked by protestors. Although he publicly said he would provide video footage of the incident, he has still failed to do so and the incident is widely accepted as imaginary today.

In an effort to demonize the protestors, Erdoğan even claimed that they drank alcohol in a mosque where they had sought refuge from tear gas -- abundantly used by the police -- but it later turned out that Erdoğan's story was untrue. Not only has Erdoğan failed to provide any evidence for his claim, but the mosque's muezzin Fuat Yıldırım denied allegations that the protesters drank alcohol and behaved inappropriately inside the mosque.

Erdoğan has also targeted Alevis, a religious community, on numerous occasions in the past couple of years, raising fears that he would not avoid stirring up sectarian divisions to keep power.

Aykan Erdemir, a social anthropologist and deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), is concerned that the damage Erdoğan has inflicted on the fabric of Turkish society may well be lasting.

“It looks as if Erdoğan has been systematically undermining the common ground we have, [causing] damage that could turn out to be permanent,” Erdemir told Sunday's Zaman in an interview he gave several weeks after the Gezi Park protests broke out.

Alevism is viewed by a great majority of Alevis as a heterodox sect of Islam -- although some see it as being outside of Islam -- and Alevis are estimated to make up 10-15 percent of Turkey's population.

“Massacres come after such polarization”

At a press meeting at the end of January, Erdemir accused the government of polarizing the public via the media and warned that this risks paving the way for wide scale violence in the future.

He said: “Let's not forget all massacres and genocides in world history erupted as a result of [polarization in the public]. The road to the death of millions of people in concentration camps was paved with hate speech, with political speeches and with a climate of hate created via the media.”

A survey conducted by a think tank, the İstanbul-based Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), following the Gezi Park protests revealed that ethnic, political and religious polarization in Turkey has reached dangerous levels.

The survey found that the rise in polarization was primarily a result of political divisions and the discriminatory discourse of some political figures.

The study attempted to, “Draw a picture of Turkey that concretely shows the sides, sizes and levels of polarizations in Turkey as well as the factors feeding them.”

The survey also addressed political polarization specifically, asking respondents if they would feel comfortable “becoming relatives through marriage” in relation to each major political party. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they would feel uncomfortable having someone from the ruling AK Party in their families.

When it comes to having a CHP voter enter the family after a marriage, 13.8 percent said they would find this to be a problem. Just over 9 percent of people reported feeling this way about the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but for the pro-Kurdish parties, 51 percent checked the box saying this would be a “problem.”

When asked which party they do not want the ruler of the country to belong to, 52.2 percent said the AK Party and 66.8 percent pointed to the pro-Kurdish parties. Just over 34 percent of the respondents said they wouldn't like to see a CHP member leading the country.

Figures reveal that the tension in politics has taken its toll on the society. The murder of women has enormously increased since the AK Party came to power at the end of 2002. Between 2002 and 2009, the murder of women in Turkey increased by 1,400 percent, according to figures released at that time by the Ministry of Justice. Since 2009, the AK Party government has not provided the public with official figures on how many women have been killed by men.

According to statistics provided by, which keeps a running count of the number of women who have been killed that are reported in the media, 281 women were killed in 2014. This figure does not include the murders that went unreported in the news. In January alone a total of 27 women were murdered by men in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 February 2015, Saturday