YAVUZ BAYDAR

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YAVUZ BAYDAR
November 15, 2012, Thursday

Erdoğan-Gül divide

As soon as one implies what the headline of this column underlines, one may run into trouble. Mischief, malice, bad intent, etc., may land on you like missiles. Such, sadly, is the political climate these days in this part of the world; it is vicious and venomous.

Yet, for any independent observer, reality is, yes, reality. There are now growing mental gaps within Ankara’s circles of power as the already huge challenges in the political domain intensify. Syria is the Great Unknown, Iraq threatens to be the fourth neighbor with no diplomatic ties to Turkey, the most recent Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip adds to the tensions and Turkey’s EU vocation has hit a wall of indifference.

But it is perhaps what is taking place at home which causes concern, more than anything else. The way the Kurdish deadlock has emerged bitterly exposed the old reflexes of the state as intact, dominating the discourse and approach of the civilian government to which almost every second Kurdish voter had tied her/his hopes in the past two elections.

“Every demeaning word that comes from [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan feels like a dagger in our chests,” a Kurdish colleague told me, adding: “It pains everybody in my hometown. Look, I am a conservative journalist and I do not understand how much more we must be humiliated. I operate a newspaper where I live and I can see clearly the separation and loss of hope in the minds of the people over there.”

His was a private, almost whispered, voice on Wednesday at a meeting organized by the Democratic Peace Institute (DPI) in İstanbul, where various local press representatives -- Turks, Kurds, conservatives, Islamists, secular leftists, liberals and others gathered. The narrative of the Kurdish colleagues, all in a mood of being “squeezed in between the [Kurdistan Worker’s Party] PKK and Ankara,” depict an endless stream of despair, a notion of “no way out.”

But, apparently, they are not alone. In my recent conversations with some figures in Ankara, I started to hear descriptions of the powerful Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a pressure cooker. The more the crisis remains unmanaged, the higher the frustrations within. If the prime minister stretches the confrontational stand too far, claimed one of them, no one should wonder if a breaking point is reached. Many senior figures share the frustrations but cannot voice their dissent publicly because -- obviously -- none of them desires to be the one who “started it all.”

The AKP’s growing “watershed sensation” has two basic elements. We can now argue that the AKP, with the path its leadership has chosen after the elections, has lost its “oppositional dynamic”: Up until then, it was ruling Turkey with the rare feature of being an opposition of the rotten structures and mentality of the “old Turkey.” It was the very feature of the “opposition while in power” which kept the hopes of approximately two-thirds of the electorate alive.

What we are starting to witness now is its fading ties to the party. The emerging internal frustration of the AKP is the awareness of this new phenomenon.

The feature of opposition may have been waving goodbye, but another element within the AKP remains. It is the conscience which kept many of its founders and early supporters together that is intact among many and has been a fundamental part of the AKP’s sui generis identity. One can read it carefully in the recent attempts by some senior AKP figures -- seemingly despite Erdoğan -- to end the hunger strikes. The current deadlock is therefore causing serious divides within and it is about the party programs, election pledges and the future of democratization.

But, the most interesting part is where President Abdullah Gül positions himself on all the major issues as the politics become more and more puzzling. Is there a divide? Yes, there is. “His [Erdoğan’s] discourse is different from mine,” Gül once told The Financial Times, adding: “I as president am not a politician. … I represent or look at the picture from a broader perspective and I embrace everyone.” This, if anything, should give enough hints on the growing gap between the two founders of the AKP. It is the new reality which will push through sharp choices ahead.