Erdogan uses Christchurch attack to demonise People’s Democratic Party

Issue 
Because the People's Democratic Party is likely to win back ground in the elections, the Turkish government is trying to demonise it.

The racist-fascist terrorist act in New Zealand, targeting local mosques in Christchurch and killing 50 Muslims, has been unequivocally condemned in Turkey.

Five parliamentary parties even managed to sign a common statement of condemnation — a level of agreement between the parties unheard of since the last parliamentary election, and rarely before that.

Yet somehow, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), are trying to use the event to provoke anger among the party base against the opposition.

In his mass meetings, Erdoğan broadcast the video stream recorded by Brenton Tarrant during the attack, to galvanise his party base and convince the public that this action was threatening Turkey and Erdoğan himself. This has drawn criticism from New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, who contacted Turkish officials, including senior ministers.

The video recording is strictly banned by the New Zealand government, but is becoming mainstream in Turkey as a result. Erdoğan has shown the video in İstanbul, Tekirdağ, İzmir and Antalya. This trend appears likely to continue until the local elections due on March 31.

This issue is widely criticised in Turkey by the opposition.

The massacre has been condemned by all political sectors in New Zealand. Labour Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern is showing solidarity with the families of the Muslim victims, trying to unite the people of New Zealand of different beliefs.

Obviously, the president of a political Islamist party does not share the objectives of an anti-Muslim fascist-terrorist. So why is Erdoğan spreading his propaganda?

Erdogan facing ‘meltdown’

The reason lies within the deep contradictions shattering Turkish politics.

Immediately ahead are the local elections. Polls show the ruling party losing nearly all major cities, including the capital Ankara and the largest metropolis Istanbul.

Erdoğan can find no way to prevent the meltdown he is facing as a result of the economic crisis of Turkish capitalism and is trying to explain everything bad as a conspiracy hatched by the West.

The Turkish lira has lost value, not because of Erdogan’s inability to protect the value of the national currency and his bad economic policies, but because of a supposed “attack on Turkey”, synonymous with an attack on the Turkish national flag and the Islamic call to prayer.

The rise of the prices of vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and eggplants are not because of the collapse of farming during the AKP period and high inflation, but rather the result of “food terror”, and rising prices are no different than a “terrorist attack on the country” — and so on and so forth.

The only problem the country faces is diverse kinds of “terror” and only the AKP government can stand up against it.

The bourgeois and the popular opposition both object to this “survival crisis” thesis, stating that the real problem is the survival of the ruling bloc which, after 17 years of rule has brought Turkey to the brink of economic collapse and liquidated political rights and freedoms.

The watchword of the ruling bloc — consisting of the political Islamist AKP and ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) — is the “survival crisis”.

The economic crisis is either dismissed as unimportant or the result of “foreign attacks”. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli even stated that eggplant can be eaten when its price falls, but “survival cannot be eaten”.

“Survival” is the main watchword of the ruling power bloc, although they have yet to convince the general public. The vast majority of society faces a different problem of survival, not of the Turkish state, but the problem of survival of their families, who they are increasingly failing to feed and educate.

Politics of polarisation

By showing the video, Erdoğan is trying to convince people that they are under an imminent threat by “Crusaders”.

By way of implication, he is attempting to connect the fantastic claim of Tarrant to “retake Constantinople” with the Turkish opposition’s aim to reclaim Istanbul municipality in the upcoming elections.

He even tries to connect the views of the fascist Australian Senator Fraser Anning with those of the opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu — an obvious manipulation.

Note here that Melbourne’s heroic “Eggboy” has gained widespread popularity in Turkey as a left-wing anti-fascist figure, especially among the opposition’s social base.

Erdoğan’s politics of polarisation on religious and sectarian lines is not limited to the bourgeois opposition, but also targets the women’s movement and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

He attacked the March 8 International Women’s Day rally, claiming that the women protested the Islamic call to prayer. In a manipulated video broadcast by government-affiliated media, it appears that the women protested the call to prayer, but in reality their slogans and whistles were a protest against police attacking them.

Women who marched on March 8 have also been verbally attacked in nearly all of Erdoğan’s mass meetings.

HDP likely to make gains

Another Erdoğan target is the HDP, which represents the real popular opposition movement in Turkey. It appears poised to regain nearly all the municipalities forcibly appropriated by the government in 2016 and some new ones.

In a television interview, Erdoğan accused “the godless, atheist HDP” of “shooting at mosques”. This was not the first and will not be the last lie about the HDP. Erdoğan’s aim is to criminalise the third-largest and most left-wing electoral party in Turkey.

Since the AKP’s electoral defeat in 2015, the result of a rise in the HDP’s popularity, it has accused the HDP of “terrorism”, “treachery” and “collaboration with the West”.

The judiciary, which is strictly managed by the ruling party, has imprisoned more than 5000 HDP members, many MPs and co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

Part of this great wave of political repression was the forcible seizure of 96 HDP municipalities, the sacking of elected mayors and appointment of government trustees in their place.

The HDP still holds firm despite this incredible political repression. Uniting the vast Kurdish political popular movement with Turkey’s democratic and socialist trends, the HDP still has the ability to form a broad alliance of the oppressed sectors.

It is in this context that Erdoğan is increasing his efforts to convert popular discontent into a religious polarisation, thereby fastening together his electoral base.

Is broadcasting this video worth a single vote? Obviously not. The AKP government aims to turn every election into a battlefield, to polarise society between “us” and “them”, and effectively destroy all the rights and freedoms that make an election free and fair.

It seems that the remaining days leading up to the March 31 elections will be marked by an increasing effort by the government to manipulate the electorate by any means necessary.

[Alp Altınörs is a former deputy co-chair of the HDP, and a writer and translator with Abstrakt, a Marxist internet magazine based in Turkey.]