CHP leader: Turkey’s departure from tradition brought failure abroad

30 July 2012 / Abdullah Bozkurt, Ali Aslan Kılıç, Ankara

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party has said that a decision by the Turkish government to depart from the country’s deep-rooted foreign policy traditions has failed to make Turkey a proactive actor in its region, adding that Turkey has become a country prone to shooting itself in the foot.In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party or AKP) government has failed to take the realities of the situation into account when confronting the Syrian crisis. He claimed that the government ignored the Russian and Chinese factors in the Syrian equation. “The main question is this: Who has benefited most from these developments? In this process, neither Turkey nor Syria nor Iraq is the winner. We need to see a winner in this process,” he said, criticizing the government for pursuing interests other than Turkish national interests. “Imperialism is a ruthless ideology. It uses humans according to its strategic interests,” he noted.He targeted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, asking if the minister knows how to play chess. “When playing chess, you have to predict what your opponent’s next move will be,” he said, criticizing Davutoğlu for developing foreign policy based on dreams. The CHP leader urged Turkey to mend fences with Israel as soon as possible. “We need to improve our ties with Israel as was the case in the past,” he said.Kılıçdaroğlu underlined that the roles of the new CHP and the AK Party have changed in Turkish politics, claiming that the policies developed by the new CHP have revealed the real intention of the AK Party, which tries to advertise itself as liberal party. “We have changed roles; now we defend freedoms. The AKP has become a pro-status quo party. Now, we are going to all regions of Turkey.”We spoke with Kılıçdaroğlu about a variety of affairs.

What can you say about the developments in Syria?

Syria is not Iraq. Russia’s influence on Syria should not be ignored. One cannot make a correct analysis of Syria while ignoring Russia, which considers Syria a door to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea is located in Syria.Imperialism is a ruthless ideology. It uses humans according to its strategic interests.You harshly criticize the government’s policies.Turkey has a deep-rooted foreign policy tradition. Turkey has departed from this deep-rooted foreign policy tradition to a large extent. Can this deep-rooted foreign policy tradition be left? Yes, if new foreign policy can make Turkey a more proactive actor in its region. You may develop a much more active foreign policy instead of following a static foreign policy. However, you need to closely monitor regional balances and global developments while developing this policy.You cannot ignore China, which has emerged as a new power. You cannot develop foreign policy without considering these balances. If you do not consider them, failure is inevitable.

Do you think that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pays attention to your criticisms?

He does not design the country’s foreign policy. This is the problem. If he were the one designing Turkish foreign policy, he would lend an ear to the opposition. Since the foreign policy followed by the government is imposed by foreign powers and he thinks these powers will support him, the prime minister faces failure in foreign policy. This is why he listens to what imperial powers have to say instead of [listening to] us. And this is why he has been isolated.A country must be aware of who has drawn the current borders in the Middle East while developing new foreign policy.

Now, are the border lines being redrawn?

You need to consider the remarks by Western powers that the borders in the Middle East will be redrawn. No one will give you the energy resources of the Middle East. If you start the journey with this dream, failure is inevitable.The most recent example is Libya. The first country with which the new Libyan government inked a deal was France. Turkey handed out $100 million to Libyan rebels. What did we gain? Have we signed any agreements with them? Have they solved the problems of Turkish businessmen running businesses in Libya? Everything is obvious. Never mind gaining privileges as the UK and France do — Turkish construction contractors are not even able to return to their businesses in Libya.

Did the government fail to foresee these developments?

How could they fail to foresee them? The state has many valued bureaucrats. Foreign policy cannot be formulated this way.I wonder if Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu knows how to play chess. When playing chess, you have to predict what your opponent’s next move will be.You need to analyze the situation. Instead of analyzing the situation, we disregard our will and act as if we are being carried away by a flood. Mr. Prime Minister paid a state visit to the Kremlin on July 18 at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin; then what happened? They had planned to convince Putin [to change his mind] about the Syrian issue but instead they were convinced.Foreign policy cannot be developed based on dreams. You may have dreams. If you tell your dreams to the West and create a discourse that suggests “we will rebuild the Ottoman Empire,” then they will deliberately perpetuate this picture. This picture has been perpetuated and ascribed to Turkey. This will continue.

What are your main concerns?

Let us ask this question: Who has benefited from these developments? Turkey? Syria? Iraq? No. If we didn’t benefit, then who did? Israel is a major power in the Middle East. It has the US as a strategic partner. It needs a power with which it can cooperate closely. It is trying to create that power. How can the Foreign Ministry not see this?

Turkey is not on the best terms with Israel at the moment. What is your opinion of this situation?

It is utterly wrong. We need to improve our ties with Israel, as was the case in the past. Why did we send the Mavi Marmara flotilla in the first place? Can someone from the government come up with a reasonable explanation? Aid to Gaza? No, the Turkish Red Crescent Society [Kızılay] is already there in Gaza. Kızılay has an office and tents set up there. Kızılay is providing aid!

The government claims the flotilla was organized by civil society organizations and they could not intervene.

Is it acceptable? Some AKP deputies were planning to board the ship. Why did they give up at the last moment? You should not use foreign policy matters to further your domestic policy position. You sought to create animosity against Israel over the Gaza issue with a view to boosting your votes. Look at where you ended up. Our nine citizens were brutally killed and nothing could be done to penalize the perpetrators. The result was bloodshed. One of the players is Turkey. There is a fire in one of our neighbors and we rush to intervene in it with gasoline. This can’t be! That fire will eventually spread to you.All this happened as result of Turkey’s dream of setting the rules of the game. “Turkey will be the playmaker in its region,” they would say. Now, we have become a country against which the rules of the game are set. The biter bit. You attempted to bite, but you ended up being bit. Our plane is down. They announced that they hit it. We made a call. No one knows how it was hit. Given the fact that it was shot down in international airspace, the US, Russia and the UK, having a base in Cyprus, must have important data about it. Let these countries disclose this information. We told the government to make such a call. But they didn’t do it. The question is, “Why didn’t they do it?”

What is the reason for it in your opinion?

I don’t want to make a comment about it. We may voice all sorts of criticisms, but we will never want to put the government of the Turkish Republic behind the eight ball. We love our country. We believe that such a foreign policy will not do the country any good and may cause conflicts to spread to our country. We should, therefore, avoid doing so and make statements to boost unity and integrity.

Are you worried about the Kurdish issue in Syria?

In recent months, a meeting was held in northern Iraq. Some declarations were made [the Arbil statement, which united all Syrian Kurdish factions]. What are the latest developments in Syria? They have started to implement what they announced. One cannot understand why our Foreign Ministry fails to make sense of these incidents. There are many bureaucrats who have extensive experience in such matters. Turkey has become a country which shoots itself in the foot. Imperialist powers don’t care about [Bashar] al-Assad or the Syrian people. They have a new Middle East map in their minds. These maps are even published in our papers. Wasn’t it known that Syria would be divided into three parts?

Are you kept informed about important state matters?

The bureaucracy should inform the main opposition party. This applies to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the Foreign Ministry and the General Staff. In the past, this was done. But with the AKP, this process was interrupted. The main opposition party aside, is Mr. President being informed? I don’t think Mr. President is being informed. The first statement Mr. [Abdullah] Gül made following the downing of our jet indicates that he was not informed about it. A summit meeting of leaders should be held. We are surrounded by bloodshed. Unfortunately, there is no effort to hold such a meeting.

“If you delay change, you’ll yield to the status quo!”

It is as if the new CHP has adopted more reformist and pro-EU profile. Many claim the reform process was halted. What is your roadmap to force the government to pursue reforms?

You said, ‘It is as if.’ No ‘as if’; it is the truth. After becoming the chairman, I went to Brussels, Berlin, London and Paris to promote the new CHP. There, I told them that we are a more democratic and liberal party. We said that we wouldn’t pose any obstacle to the country’s EU bid for full membership and we wouldn’t accept any double standards against Turkey. We explained that we need to boost the quality of democracy in Turkey and that there were problems about freedoms.

Have the negative reactions against your ‘new CHP’ discourse ceased? Is there still any resistance within the party?

It is not easy to keep up with change. Change always breeds negative reactions. If you delay change, you’ll yield to the status quo. We, as the CHP, have to experience and implement change. More young people and more women should seek political careers. Older people too, should be there to help with their experience. No one should insist on holding a post forever. Young people should be able to engage in politics easily. We have introduced youth and gender quotas. This is very important in order to make change happen.

Why have coup era laws not been changed?

We have made the following call to the AKP: “You say you are against coups; so are we. Let us change the coup laws. Let us abolish the legal texts that block democracy and freedoms, particularly the election law and political parties law. Let us draw a new roadmap with a freedom-oriented mentality.” But they opposed. In the past, the AKP would say, “We want to change the coup laws, but the CHP refuses.” Now, we say, “Let us change them,” but the AKP refuses. The truth has come out.You have slammed reform laws such as those about the Court of Accounts and the Ombudsman.They are totalitarian laws. This is what we are trying to explain. In a country, the armed forces should be audited as well. If the government is unable to give account of the taxes citizens pay, then democracy cannot exist there. If I tell voters to vote for me, then I must give account of how I have fulfilled my promises to voters and to what extent.

Do you have concerns about the expansion of immunities within the government?

The ruling party is implementing more repressive methods [in the governance of the country]. Essentially, it has created a climate of fear. No businessman can directly criticize Mr. Prime Minister as they know what will happen to them. Is such a thing acceptable in a democracy? The head of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association [TÜSİAD] makes some critical remarks, and all AKP deputies, including Mr. Prime Minister, lynch her. Civil society should be able to criticize everything they see as erroneous. Let the people have the freedom to criticize.

The Socialist International must take initiative in Syria

The old CHP did not attend the Socialist International [SI] meetings so as not to attract criticism from peers. You actively attend these meetings and you are even running for deputy president of the organization. How is your campaign going?Very well! I personally cannot attend all meetings, but we are always represented at these meetings. The SI is holding various meetings on various issues across the world. We have suggested that the SI should take initiative in the Syrian crisis. Our proposal was accepted. We are expecting certain steps in the coming days. The SI is an important actor in world politics. It is a major power having representatives from many countries. Turkey should make itself felt and exist inside this power. It should be able to listen to the balances around the globe from the voices of the people coming from those countries. It should be able to see their problems and solutions to those problems. It should be able to talk to them and establish a dialogue with them. Our youth branches and women’s branches are able to establish such relations. We are at the start of the journey.   The new CHP vigor for Turkish politics.


Last week, I sat down to talk to a man who has finally consolidated his power as the leader of the main opposition party after two years of intra-party fighting which has consumed much of the party’s energy and resources, leaving its main rival, the ruling party, much room to cater to voters in Turkish politics.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which held its regular party congress two weeks ago, shared his views on how he wants to play politics with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has won three consecutive elections. Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan are poles apart on many issues, be it foreign or domestic, but they also mimic each other on social and economic issues when they believe it is possible to peel chunks of voters’ blocs from each other. Unlike his predecessor, the new CHP leader has distanced the party from ideological divisions and eased the party’s stance on nationalistic discourse while being busy producing policy papers on many issues that matter to the man on the street. He tried to offer a number of panaceas to the nation’s illnesses in various fields on the eve of the national elections last year but the window of opportunity was very narrow as he rushed to explain the nuts and bolts of his ideas in a very short time. Nevertheless the CHP’s proposals had shaken up the ruling AK Party to some degree.Now that he is the undisputed leader of the main opposition party, Kılıçdaroğlu says he will go after the AK Party very aggressively in a number of areas while working to improve the battered image of the CHP both at home and abroad. “I will be sending more delegations to Europe to explain our party’s policies on the socialist democratic platform,” he said, stressing that the perceived image of the CHP as anti-EU is utterly wrong. “In effect, the AK Party has turned into an anti-EU party and has halted the reforms process,” he said, adding that the new CHP will become a more active player in Socialist International, where he is lobbying to become a vice president.The new CHP leader is not naive enough to think that his job will be easy as he openly admits that the CHP has a real “credibility problem” with voters and faces an uphill battle to win them over. “We have difficulty in convincing women, small and medium-sized business owners, conservatives and liberals alike. But we will work harder to explain ourselves to these people,” he vowed.That will not be easy, however, as the AK Party is performing well in many areas, especially in the economy. I believe that is why Kılıçdaroğlu chooses to attack the government on the foreign policy front, specifically singling out Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in recent months. He blames the unprecedented challenges Turkey has faced in its immediate neighborhood, from Syria to Iraq, from Iran to Israel, on the Erdoğan government and keeps bashing Davutoğlu on almost all occasions, hoping that the Turkish public will start to see the AK Party government as damaging to the country’s national interests. While Kılıçdaroğlu acknowledges that Ankara may need to take a more proactive role in its external relations, as Davutoğlu had suggested, the CHP leader warns that a departure from traditional “non-interference” and a “wait and see” policy perspectives may land Turkey in hot waters. “The case in point is relations with Israel,” he said. “We should have mended fences with the Jewish state a long time ago,” he underlined.How he will recruit new names in this new period will reveal more about the direction that the new CHP is headed for. For the time being, it looks like he wants to mix part of the old breed with fresh blood, creating a balance between older and more experienced figures in the party and members from the younger generation. He promises to end the specter of “second man,” a kingmaker behind the leader, which has loomed large over the CHP for decades. But that may prove to be difficult to achieve as old habits die hard. If it is any indication, the position of Haluk Koç, a veteran politician from the northeastern province of Samsun, will be indicative of the party’s direction in that respect. I observed Koç, a successful doctor-turned-politician, during the campaign trail last year and found him to be a well-respected and much-loved personality in the province. He is well-versed in foreign languages and commands respect among his colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).Another observation I noted during the campaign trail was that the CHP was divided in many provinces, with old dogs fighting with CHP newcomers, bleeding each other out. Kılıçdaroğlu said he is well aware of the problems in the local chapters and is keen to address the divisive issues in the provinces. He made it clear that the new CHP will overcome resistance from the status quo defenders within the party. “Adapting to change is never easy and it invites resistance and reaction,” he said, “but if we do not implement the changes or delay them, we will surrender ourselves to the status quo.” Kılıçdaroğlu was able to change the minds of most of the delegates in local chapters, consolidating his base in the provinces. This will help him overcome differences in local politics. What is more, the CHP leader has promised to open the CHP up to more women and youth representation to attract more votes.Kılıçdaroğlu told me that the CHP would go after the government on the unemployment issue, describing it as Turkey’s most fundamental problem. He said one in every four youths is unemployed in Turkey. According to official data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) earlier this month, the unemployment rate in Turkey’s vast labor force saw a major decline of nearly 1 percentage point, dropping to 9 percent in April. According to TurkStat, youth unemployment was also down to 16.7 percent in the first fourth months of the year, from 17.9 percent in the same month of last year. Though Kılıçdaroğlu’s figures may differ from the official data, he still has a perfectly valid point in going after the government on this very important issue.Kılıçdaroğlu is also banking on the mistakes of the AK Party and the recent overtures which the governing party has made to specific segments in conservative camps, mostly focused on symbolism. He hopes that issues like abortion and mosque building, which are non-issues for the larger Turkish society, will turn some voters off from the AK Party, eventually alienating the party from the larger masses. He also listed the authoritarian tendencies which Erdoğan’s government has adopted since the elections on June 12, 2011, as a huge turn-off for voters. For example, during the interview, Kılıçdaroğlu was highly critical of the government for neutering Parliament’s oversight role over the government via the majority of seats which the AK Party controls. “This is the biggest weakness in our democracy,” he said, stressing that the legislative branch exists only on paper written in the Constitution. “It looks like position of Parliament is under the executive power where the oversight power of the legislative is under constant pressure from the government,” he said, adding that the deputies do not act according to their free will when casting votes.No doubt there is a long road ahead for the new CHP to present itself as a credible alternative to the AK Party. With many bumps predicted along the road during the process of reformation within the party, I think the CHP, the oldest party in Turkey, will eventually be able to transform itself to appeal to a wider audience in Turkey. If that fails, the CHP will wither away into extinction and becoming a relic, just like many other examples we have seen in the recent history of the republic.

About CHP EU Representation

The CHP was founded on 9 September 1923, about one and half month before the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey. The first President of modern Turkey’s oldest party was M. Kemal Atatürk. Today CHP is a social-democratic party, member of the Socialist International and associate member of the Socialist Group at the European Parliament. The scope of the CHP bureau in Brussels is not limited to the bilateral framework of Turkey's EU accession process. Issues such as the information society, energy policies, social development, climate change, international trade and security are among the different focus areas. The EU-Turkey relations are about integration and need multiple, plural and horizontal channels of communication. The CHP supports and promotes Turkey's EU membership process also by being more present and active in Brussels The CHP's Representative to the EU is Ms Kader Sevinç who previously worked as an MEP advisor at the European Parliament and in the private sector.
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