The relationship between the Kemalists in Turkey and the Baathists in Syria goes beyond political or strategic ties. Both ideologies are fed by the same source, even though they both deny this relationship
The CHP was not alone in this visit. The group also included participants from the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD), the nationalist and socialist Workers' Party (İP), the small Marxist Labor Party (EMEP) and the Association of Republican Women, which we remember from the days of the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997.
The visitors saw what they wanted to in Syria: Injustice had been done to the country and what was going on there was an imperialist conspiracy. And they did not see what they did not want to: There were no clashes or massacres.
CHP Deputy Chairwoman Birgül Ayman Güler told the Hürriyet daily that life was normal in Aleppo and Damascus and that the attitude of the people on the street was clear. On the party's official website, they also noted that what has been going on in the country was scripted and that they were concerned that the goal was to invade Syria.
“We will not approve of the invasion of countries through scripts and plots. As citizens of the Republic of Turkey founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, we, before everybody else, will defend the sovereignty and independence of nations. We returned from Syria with the feeling that we should not allow such scripts and plots to drag the country and the region into a state of turmoil,” they added.
According to Umut Oran, one of the leading names in the CHP, Turkey has been serving as the US's subcontractor and it was US expectations, not the will of Turkey, that were the determining factor in countries such as Syria, Egypt and Libya today.
For an outsider who is not familiar with the CHP and Kemalism, its ideology and its views, as seen above, may seem surprising because what we have here is a political regime so brutal that it cannot be tolerated by asserting a discourse on anti-imperialism, as well as a blood-spilling dictator and crimes against humanity. It is not easy to understand why an opposition party relies on such a discourse despite all these facts.
But for those who are familiar with what's happening in Turkey, this is not surprising at all. I am going to attempt to explain why this is so, but first I want to raise two issues.
First and above all, I would not say that the main opposition party of a democratic country cannot talk to dictators and I would not say that you cannot talk to them while they are spilling blood.
Quite the contrary, if there is even the slightest hope for attaining peace and a state of nonviolence, you would go to the dictator to shake his hand, no matter how repugnant or disgusting it is. But you do this if you hope to end violence, not to encourage him or to extend support for his actions.
And secondly, I am not saying that the US is innocent. I am just saying that its double standard on a dictator who is committing crimes against humanity cannot be an excuse to support bloodthirsty dictators.
If a political party that claims to be democratic and observing humane values holds a visit in support of a bloody murderer, the problem here is ethical rather than political.
Ceren Kenar from the Nahda Network says: “While the whole world, and even Russia and China which support Syria at the United Nations Security Council, warn Syria that it should not rely on violence against the protestors, the main opposition in our country legitimizes Assad's violence and does not hesitate to declare the protesters terrorists. You may not like [Prime Minister Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan's policy on Syria; you may criticize it. But justifying the massacre in Syria and declaring the protesters terrorists is repugnant and disgusting.”
Indeed, the issue is ethical. And the answer to the question at the beginning, I think, should be sought at this point.
Kemalism and Baathism: an affiliation that goes beyond the political
The relationship between the Kemalists in Turkey and the Baathists in Syria goes beyond political or strategic ties. Both ideologies are fed by the same source, even though they both deny this relationship.
And both are characterized by raw positivism. Both are bureaucratic ideologies that seek to manipulate and control society through the state apparatus. Both are statist and nationalist. The understanding of secularism held by both is contrary to the freedom of religion and conscience. Both simultaneously admire and hate “the West.”
Maybe the most important part of this is the political economy of all these commonalities; both regimes reflect the rule and power sustained by a privileged group against the majority. This is why they do not like democracy and do not see society as being mature enough to rule itself.
And the excuses they rely on in order to justify their stance are also similar. They play the role of a hero who enlightens the illiterate masses and governs them, as well as saving them from the exploitation of imperialist nations.
Years ago, a senior and stable liberal democrat, Kazım Berzeg, co-founder of the Association for Liberal Thinking, said, “The CHP is the Baath Party of Turkey.” He is right, but chronologically speaking, it should be noted that the Baath Parties of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Hafez al-Assad's Syria took the CHP as a role model.
The CHP's luck was that it predated the Baaths of both Syria and Iraq and that it was able to revise itself earlier on, following, in the words of Samuel Huntington, the "second wave of democracy," in a post-World War II era. However, this revision occurred in large part as an adaption to the formal rules and processes of democracy; the totalitarian essence of the party's ideology and the CHP's attribute of being the party of privileged classes did not change.
This matter of precedence is important because the commonalities between the two cannot be easily discerned at first glance. This is not easy because Turkey succeeded in liquidating its own Baath regime over time without spilling blood and the current CHP declares itself as being both Kemalist and social democrat.
But in critical times, everything comes around full circle, as is the case with the CHP when its militarism manifests itself in times of coups and memorandums, just as the party extends support to the Syrian Baath Party in this time of bloodshed.
Turkey is very unlucky to have this as its main opposition party and because of the possibility that this party could become an alternative to the ruling party.