More democracy? Abolish the CHP!

Imagine, you don’t know too much about Turkey’s past and present, and you read this opinion article that opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote yesterday in the Washington Post. He writes about how ‘the AKP is systematic and ruthless in its persecution of any opposition to its policies’, and uses the sentence: ‘Turkey today is a country where people live in fear.’ Kilicdaroglu draws the picture of a totalitarian state, with himself as the shiny centre of the opposition, who would lead the country to freedom for everybody if only the brutal leaders of the country would allow him to. If you wouldn’t know any better, you’d nominate Kilicdaroglu for the Nobel Peace Prize.

No no, I’m not going to defend the AKP. I wouldn’t dream of that, since the AKP government just doesn’t serve democracy right – proof of that all over this website, like here, here, here and here, just to mention a few. There is no need to talk about the AKP to show how totally ridiculous the writing of mr. Kilicdaroglu is.

The opposition leader likes to display his party the CHP as a good choice for Turkey to get back on the democratization track. He even mentions his party is the ‘vestige’ of Turkish democracy. The truth is however exactly the opposite: the CHP is at the very roots of the basic problem that Turkey has with democracy: the main goal of the Turkish state is to protect the state, not it’s citizens. It is one of the basics of Kemalism, which is the fundamental ideology of the CHP, that was founded by Atatürk.


Kemalism is not an ideology that serves democracy. On the contrary: besides not protecting it’s citizens, Kemalism for example orders ‘modernism’ (or what the state considers modern, which is pretty outdated by now and for example hampers freedom of religion) and nationalism (and thus excluses people). For decades, Turkey was a one party state ruled by the CHP. No opposition allowed, and Atatürk, who introduced changes 100% top down with no say for the people whatsoever, even executed people who opposed his vision – all for the sake of the country, of course.

I don’t know the general sentiment at the time, but I can imagine people who opposed Atatürk were living in fear – which means, being afraid to lose your life. For Kilicdaroglu to suggest that Turkey is nowadays a country ‘where people live in fear’ is so utterly shameful. It is a flagrant and evil exaggeration, a lie that does not serve any purpose but his own parties strategy – whichever strategy that may be. (And, mr. Kilicdaroglu, look at what is happening in Turkey’s neighbour Syria: that, sir, is a country where people live in fear.) It is just a big a lie as his remark that the AKP systematically and ruthlessly persecutes any opposition to it’s policies. To put it simple: crap.

Mastodon Kemalists

The CHP has nothing to do with democracy, not in the past and not in the present. They are unable to reform themselves into a real social democratic party, which they are in name. Kilicdaroglu shows no sign of wanting to reform the party, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t do it, because the mastodon Kemalists still hold a lot of power in the party behind the scenes. We will see that again in a big party meeting that is planned for later this month.

I would even like to go one step further. For Turkey to get back on track and democratize further, the best thing that could happen is the abolishment of the CHP. Hop, straight into the history books with it. As long as this anti-democratic institute covering up as social democrat party exists, a genuine and appealing opposition can never emerge. And only a genuine and appealing opposition, that really puts democratic values at the top of it’s priorities list, can do something against the too powerful AKP.

10 replies
  1. friendly holland
    friendly holland says:

    I won’t defend the CHP to argue that some people live in fear. It is a fact that Turkey is not democratic enough to offer it’s citizens the protection of their basic human rights as a state should. As we can currently witness, the separation of powers is not guaranteed. It means abuse of law, judiciary or power of the police, for example, is possible and forms a threat to anybody who shows opposition. A government head who calls innocent people (they are, at least as long as there is no verdict) terrorists is threatening, and intends to be threatening, so fear is exactly what he deliberately creates. When you speak of Syria, that is another category, that is fear of death, the worst fear. There are smaller fears. The moment you have to think twice if you tell something over the phone, if you can write about your ideas freely or adress common problems openly. I am quite sure that you yourself must have thought about the impact of certain threats on your work. I do not hope so, but what if also foreign correspondents are accused of whatever link to whatever crime?
    For the CHP you can say they have had their chances but failed and never took notice, and that is a pity. But the CHP-leader still has the fullest right as everybody else to criticise the current government. In fact he is in the best position to express crticism because as the opposition leader he should have immunity. The fact that even he is now threatened with legal procedures is so clearly showing that democratic principles are not at all understood and practised that even we should not deny the fear that creates.

  2. TurkeyEmergency
    TurkeyEmergency says:


    You’ve misunderstood Kemalism and you’ve fallen into the “ism” trap set up for anything that represents the Turkish revolution. Mustafa Kemal never said “this is Kemalism”, instead he brought in modern principles that the West built its civilisation on. Kemalism was a phrase invented by the media, influenced by the British press in their reporting of the Turkish revolution.

    You’ve cherry picked “nationalism” and said that Kemalism doesn’t protect its citizens. If you did your research even to the most basic level you would have found out that “populism” is also one of the six pillars that the first administration of Turkey put into the constitution. And as a part of that, universal suffrage in Turkey was introduced in 1934. How does that protect the state’s power? But I suppose that doesn’t serve your rhetoric.

    You also mention the one-party state at the beginning of the republic and also that changes were made “top down with no say for the people whatsoever”. This is indeed true. The people knew nothing but the sultanate. Uneducated, illiterate, Islamified, women treated as second class… To suddenly throw a nation from thousands of years of despotism into democracy would be suicide. Maybe like asking a baby what they want to be when they’re older.

    You also mention how opposition to Mustafa Kemal’s revolution was killed. Yes, many were. Islamists, yes. Conspirators too, like those on the payroll of the British such as Ali Kemal. I’m not going to defend anyone’s murder, but I’m not going to defend classic Turkish opportunism supported by outside suitors either.

    Your use of superlatives like “totally ridiculous” for Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s article is amusing. You should know very well how opposition voice is silenced through bureaucratic ways, police brutality or pre-trial detention that lasts years. Can you honestly say Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Ozkan have been in jail for three years justifiably? Do you not even consider the possibility that they were spearheads of the biggest demonstrations in the history of the country against the government back in 2007? Did you even write about them? I just checked and, no, you didn’t.

    The tone of language in your article suggests to me that you’re dead set on your anti-Kemalist discourse. In addition, you’ve tried so hard to tie in today’s CHP to a revolution that took an Islamic despotism to the beginnings of a modern republic and to the man that spearheaded that.

    You’ve done so well in fact, that the article would be a perfect cover letter for a job at Today’s Zaman, Hurriyet Daily News or any other brown-nosing Turkish daily written in mediocre English.

  3. shirley morris
    shirley morris says:

    dreadful article.
    for somebody living in Turkey you know full well that fear is present in many areas of society least with this piece you have guaranteed your safety as a journalist.

  4. Candide
    Candide says:

    Another masterpiece from Frederike,

    Let’s start with :
    “It is just a big a lie as his remark that the AKP systematically and ruthlessly persecutes any opposition to it’s policies. To put it simple: crap.”

    So you think this is a lie ? Then could you please explain us what is happening in Silivri ? Why are there many parallel strange trials?

    Your comments about CHP, Ataturk and first decades of Republic is very typical that you can hear from any religious fundamentalist, so called intellectuals who is disconnected from reality or Kurdish micro-nationalist (I agree with TurkishEmergency’s post here about cover letter comment)

    It’s strange for MIT case you wrote a blog and told that you are confused however in this blog you are quite courageous about CHP and Ataturk. Again your statements do not have strong ground and simple minded.

    There are few issues/concepts you need to look at
    1- Modernization of Turkish society started in 1800s. You’d better look at this era then to the first decades of the republic. Similar thing also started in Russia 100 years earlier and went in correctly different direction. I would also look at it
    2- “No opposition allowed, and Atatürk, who introduced changes 100% top down with no say for the people” This is a very typical argument of the group of people I mentioned above. If you look at history you would see many changes introduced in societies were top down. This is also very natural if the society is mostly uneducated and not enlightened.
    Typical European perspective on Turkey’s modernization is generally like yours. Because generally two factors are not well understood :
    1- Turkey (and also Russia) had almost missed the train comparing to Europe because of several reasons (I am not expert here but there are several books about the topic, I just suggest you to read some before making ridiculous comments)
    So everything had to be done in a fast manner and in a different way. In Ataturk’s case considering the conditions if you can tell me a better way it is all appreciated.
    2- I mentioned that before and I really encourage you to read about the issue that Ottoman Empire did not have an aristocrat class. You can also find some references to this issue in Montaigne’s diaries). However in Europe everything developed with the initiation of aristocrats (a different top down approach) and nobody asked to each individual citizen there about changes.

    So assume that you are an idealist with a group of friends around you and you get an opportunity to change the things. What would you do ? Would you poll a revolution in a country that almost nobody knows what the polling is (since people lived under a rule of sultan for centuries) ?

    Issue with CHP today and since then is quite complicated but I am just curious if you knew that CHP’s last majority in the parliament was in 50s. Also I am not sure if you are aware that Ataturk was the person who attempted to establish a multi-party system although could not succeed. Finally we are talking about 20s and 30s. What is your reference ? You should better look what it was in 1900s and how was it in Europe in 20s and 30s. Please consider that all those elements.
    I am not going to defend CHP now but please start to reason or comment after having sufficient information.

    I am quite surprised that you sound like typical people in the group I mentioned above. Are you people around that influencing you or you are all alone for making up your mind by some observation and reading or so ?

  5. canidide
    canidide says:

    Sorry some serious typos :
    “Similar thing also started in Russia 100 years earlier and went in COMPLETELY different direction.”
    ” DO YOU HAVE people around that influencing you or…”

  6. jedilost
    jedilost says:

    What is ridiculous in this article is that you actually think CHP, a party who hasn’t been governing since the 1950s is responsible for everything negative in this country. The problem lies in the fabric of this society which it is too patriarchal and Ataturk and his followers could not break it. Now, what we see is the return of the patriarchal move stronger than ever disguised and democracy.

  7. KnowledgeTalks
    KnowledgeTalks says:

    This kind of writers are exactly the kind of writers that would criticize the Ottoman state if it was the case that the geography did not undergo revolution in the 20th century. And the most funny part is, there is no grace for the democracy established. Like voting, women rights, and cutting off the hands of religion extremists that would like to have a monopoly on the truth. The secularism has been a tool to ease down such populists. But I guess some people are just not satisfied.

    Another thing:
    The assumption: nationalism excluding others. What the writer did not understand is, that this nationalism in Turkey, calling the citizens “Turk”, is a political identity, just like the French. If the writer pledges to abolish nationalism, then I suggest that the writer starts with France.They were first. At least Turks are not chauvinistic as French are. Anyway, just like France, Turkey is a nation of many ethnic identities. For many thousands years, Turks have always embraced other ethnic groups. That is something what makes the Turks Turks. Something you do not see to often in other cultures, especially the Western ones. On top of that, there is a shared culture in Anatolia. In that sense, there is room for one political identity in Turkey, Öcalan can keep saying there is not disregarding the facts. The claim that Kurds are of different culture is not convincing. Although different languages, many cultural elements are the same, such as the Newroz, the music or some folklor dances. It is clear that the writer has never heard of the word “nation-building”. The writer criticism is selective and contains double standards.

  8. KnowledgeTalks
    KnowledgeTalks says:

    About the opposition: perhaps you are referring to the “Dersim in 1937”. To say that this opposition was supressed by force would be incomplete. The opposition side of 1937 emerged in 1921. Mustafa Kemal endured that opposition, untill they became violent themselves in 1937.

  9. avid follower
    avid follower says:

    “At least Turks are not chauvinistic as French are. ”

    This is hilarious! 🙂 So much inconsistiences in your comment, that doesn’t merit a respond.

  10. KnowledgeTalks
    KnowledgeTalks says:

    Avid follower,

    Just am example, go to Turkey and everybody in touristic area have put effort to learn English. You try that in France or Spain


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