Treatment of attacker as a hero exposes political divisions in Turkey

Osman Sarigun, the man who attacked main opposition party leader at a soldier’s funeral this past Sunday, has become a national symbol of political polarization as ruling party supporters treat him as a hero, to the fury of the opposition.

Secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was attacked at a fallen soldier’s funeral in Cubuk village of Ankara at the weekend. Following the incident, nine people were taken into custody and all of them were released.

The opposition party voiced sharp criticism after the release of suspects. But the release of Osman Sarigun, who was spotted by cameras while punching the CHP chairman, enraged the CHP base and the party leadership.  

During his interrogation in custody, Sarigun pointed to television reports depicting the CHP leader as a “terrorist supporter.” The attack came after months of government efforts in media to link the main opposition party with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The key suspect’s admission of media influence over his decision to attack reveals the reach of hate speech and demonization by pro-government media against opposition figures. He later apologized for his behavior and expressed repentance.

Moments after media detected the identity of the main attacker, Osman Sarigun, an outpour of support from the ruling party members and supporters became visible on social media. A hashtag was opened on his name, with people protesting his arrest.

Presidential spokesperson, senior leaders of the ruling AK Party and the government refused to condemn the attacker, while CHP leader was criticized for his attendance to the funeral.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu ascribed the blame on CHP leader for what happened. When asked by the press whether he would call CHP Chairman Kilicdaroglu to convey his support (well-wishing), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rebuffed. “Why should I call him?” he snorted, although he condemned the attack.

Through his Twitter account, the president previously said that “any kind of violence aimed at provocation cannot be accepted.”

But his media office’s press statement drew ire of the public after portraying the attack within the scope of democratic right to protest, rather than offering an unequivocal condemnation of the assault and the perpetrators.  

After it was confirmed that Osman Sarıgün was a member of the ruling AKP, party’s spokesperson Omer Celik announced that Sarıgun would be dismissed from the party.

The official response to the incident also became a source of friction between different state institutions and departments. A preliminary report by the gendarmerie forces hinted the possibility of provocation in the attack, but Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu firmly rejected media reports and opposition claims of a pre-planned and provocative attack.

Sarıgun could not be found in his house and was caught in Eskisehir on April 22, one day after the attack. Following the questioning by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the suspect was released with no need for being referred to the court. The Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that “there was no relation found between the suspects and terrorist organizations.”

Following his release, Sarigun returned home only to receive a hero’s welcome. Former AKP lawmaker Metin Kulunk, a close associate of Erdogan, said on his Twitter account that he talked with Sarıgün on the phone and he conveyed the Turkish nation’s well-wishes for him.

He also expressed his objection to the decision to bar Sarıgun from the AKP membership, noting that such a step would upset the Turkish nation.

Turkey’s main opposition head files complaint over funeral attack

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