The first ever joint elections rally was held by the People’s Alliance with two weeks to go before Turkish citizens cast their votes at the end of this month.
The People’s Alliance, a formation of the governing AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) held the rally in the western province of İzmir.
Using religious-nationalist overtones in his speech, Devlet Bahceli, the MHP leader, rebuked the Western world over New Zealand shootings which killed 49 Muslim prayers on Friday.
“O, Crusaders! We’re waiting for you. Come, so we’ll choke you on your own blood,” Bahceli said, according to a T24 report.
Referring to the New Zealand assailant’s religious affiliation and his manifesto, Bahceli told the crowd: “This crusader residue had written threatening messages for Turks. He would slay us if we go to Europe. This scoundrel claims they would destroy all mosques and minarets, vows ingloriously to make İstanbul a Christian city. O, Crusaders! We’re here and daring you to come. We’re waiting for you, come, so we’ll choke you on your own blood.”
The MHP’s leader allocated a considerable share of his speech to explain why the upcoming elections are about survival and how the People’s Alliance has become an assurance for the nation in such tumultuous time.
“Did you understand why the local elections are of a matter of existence? If we unite, they can’t invade the nation as they couldn’t in Gallipoli. If we embrace the People’s Alliance, they can’t demolish the Republic,” said Bahceli.
Taking the floor after Bahceli, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, started his address by praising his partner in the Alliance as “the most discerning politician in recent times.”
Erdogan mostly centered his speech on “wrongdoings” of the main opposition party and its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Referring to Izmir’s secular character, he asked: “Have we ever interfered in what our people eat or drink? I now see my sisters putting whatever they want on. They have exploited Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, for ages.”
Erdogan also slammed other opposition parties including pro-Kurdish HDP, People’s Democratic Party, for engaging in a “vague” allegiance with CHP, and CHP for “allocating candidacy slots for terrorists.”
Erdogan also lambasted the European Parliament for attacking Turkey. “The whole of the European Parliament is separatist and attacks our country. Their decision [to suspend Turkey’s EU negotiations] is of no value. The European Union had better take such a decision, but they can’t. We postpone what to be said to March 31,” Erdoğan told the crowd.
While pro-government circles see the contrary, Erdogan’s anti-Western discourse is not a new phenomenon and closely linked with domestic politics by many academics. While he may fine-tune what he says in the international arena, anti-Western rhetoric is a constant theme in domestic politics, particularly before elections.
He could, for instance, increase AKP’s share from 40.87 percent to 49.49 percent in just five months from June 2015 by stressing nationalist and anti-Western leitmotifs and attained the majority in the assembly.
For some, although tamed as a consequence of multi-layered relations during his tenure in Istanbul municipality, then prime ministry and the presidency, it is quite natural for Erdogan to have a profound anti-Western sentiment as he had an Islamist background in National Vision movement of Erbakan.
And despite apparent reciprocal emotions of both sides, however, the current reluctant relationship between the West and Turkey may continue as conjunctural interdependency prevails.
To others, however, current “hostile” rhetoric is used as an instrument to strengthen Erdogan’s hold on domestic politics. “This very narrative… equates patriotism and Erdoganism and considers all Erdogan critics as enemies of the nation. The enmity against the West, in other words, helps intimidate all ‘Western puppets’ within Turkey, which are basically all opposition circles,” says Mustafa Akyol.
Thus, even if it may be pure speculation, as he did during the Gezi protests in 2013, it proved to be extremely functional to channel people’s opinion and fortify the walls around him that have been built over people’s patriotism, nationalist sentiments as well as apprehensions about others and fears.
Erik Jan Zürcher points out though, the reality lies is somewhere in the middle. “[Regarding] Erdogan’s use of anti-Western rhetoric in his public discourse over the past five years: moving from crisis to crisis and from campaign to campaign there were excellent political reasons to depict the West as an enemy of Turkey, to drum up political support and confirm the image of the leader. But there was, and is, also an underlying ‘affective disposition’ that has been part of Erdogan’s mental make-up since his teenage years.”