It is now a hundred years since the Turkish Republic was founded on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, shaped by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. For the last twenty years, Erdogan has ruled the country on the Bosphorus, first as a liberal climber from local politics in Istanbul, later as an autocratic despot with close ties to Islamist conservatives, abusing religion to solely cement power. Now a new “Kemal” could mark the beginning of the second century. CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu has managed to unite the opposition, which has often been at odds in the past, into an alliance against the long-term ruler. Its joint candidate will appear in the parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14 as the most promising challenger. In recent polls less than two months before the elections, the leader of the leading opposition party is ahead of Erdogan. After the Kurdish party HDP, which is not officially part of the opposition bloc, also signaled that it did not want to nominate its own candidate but wanted to support Kiliçdaroglu, the calculations of the presidential palace got mixed up.
In 2018, Erdoğan was elected president with 52.5 percent. Due to the economic crisis he plunged the country into and the mismanagement after the earthquake, he will hardly be able to win the 50+1 percent required for an election victory. Not even the 9.3 million euros spent in February by the Erdogan-controlled Office for Communications, whose only function is to make propaganda for the president and his AKP, can change that.
The sultan slowly realizes that he could lose the election. He nominated several ministers, who could be taken to court if the opposition wins the elections, for a parliamentary mandate to protect them from the threat of criminal prosecution. He is also preparing to make officials who negligently contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands in the earthquake area to MPs of his AKP for the same reason. At the same time, the AKP no longer seems particularly attractive, as newcomers to politics see no interest in running for a seat in the Turkish parliament. Before the last elections, almost eight thousand people stood as AKP candidates for parliament; before May 14, there were only around three thousand.
Even if Erdogan can no longer be certain of being successful in the elections, he is doing everything he can to prevent the impending loss of power by any means necessary. All means are right for him, including making deals with extremist religious groups. In the past, it was primarily Milli Görüs, the Muslim Brotherhood and influential Sufi groups from the fundamentalist Islamic spectrum in Türkiye, along with nationalist movements such as the Gray Wolves, with whom the president liked to show himself. Now he is going one step further: Erdogan has decided to ally himself with the HÜDA-PAR, the political wing of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which was responsible for brutal killings in Türkiye. It aims to win the votes of the pro-Sharia HÜDA-PAR, which has its supporters in the Kurdish provinces.
The rise of the Turkish terrorist organization began in the 1990s. In the southeast of the country, the state and the PKK fought bitter battles. The terrorist organization, which the state backed at the time against the PKK, to whose actions it turned a blind eye, to put it mildly, began to carry out attacks against opposition figures in the region. Dissidents were killed in the street by a knife stabbed in the neck or an aimed shot, or buried alive. In 1994, the Turkish Hezbollah killed a Kurdish MP, and in 2001 they murdered a police chief who was taking action against them. The horror the organization spread became clear after an operation that killed its leaders in 2,000. Documents were secured, thanks to which the bodies of opposition members who had disappeared for years could be recovered from the cellar vaults in numerous cities throughout Türkiye. It turned out that Hezbollah kidnapped their victims, tied them up in a certain way and then tortured them until they were buried alive.
After these atrocities came to light, Hezbollah weakened and played the role of a civil society actor from 2002, the year the AKP came to power. In 2004 it was founded as an association, eight years later it became a political party under the name HÜDA-PAR. Of course, Erdogan quickly knew how to take advantage of this new political force: More than a hundred Hezbollah members responsible for brutal murders were released in 2011 because the proceedings allegedly took too long, before the local elections in 2019 the murderers of the police chief of the Turkish city in Diyarbakir together with his bodyguards were released, too.
After these amnesties, even the state religious authority Diyanet, controlled by Erdogan, protested: “Hezbollah founded the HÜDA-PAR party because it gives them better propaganda opportunities. The party has potential for violence.” In order to get more votes, Erdogan ignored all warnings and has now declared the party of the most violent organization in Turkish history to be “friends”. Twice he sent delegations to negotiations with the HÜDA-PAR chairman. After the consultations, HÜDA-PAR made the expected statement: “We support Erdogan in the elections.” Following the statement, access to over a thousand reports on the bloody history of Hezbollah and its connection to HÜDA-PAR was blocked by court order.
It has now become official that the despot on the Bosphorus, whose throne is more than shaky, no longer shy away from making pacts with terrorists. At the same time, the regime is fighting the truth in the country: the ever-smaller independent press is being prosecuted by law or simply financially destroyed, kleptocracy and nepotism continue to flourish, Diyanet religious representatives allow marriages with underage girls if their parents died in the earthquake as legitimate . It is to be hoped that the elections in May will set an example for democracy, the rule of law and against authoritarianism, nationalism and Islamism.
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