Last week, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s all-secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), gave a furious speech at Parliament.
He particularly targeted Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, saying: “The mental map of the prime minister of this country is the same with that of the Armenian Diaspora. His job is to protect unity, but he is trying to create divisions in society. He is so wild-eyed that do not be surprised if he imposes the Armenian genocide allegations onto this nation soon.”What made Kılıçdaroğlu so angry was the “apology on behalf of the state” that Erdoğan voiced for the massacres that the Turkish state perpetrated against the Alevi Kurdish tribes of Dersim in the late 1930s. (The city is now known as Tunceli. It was renamed by law in 1935.) Most liberals have welcomed Erdoğan’s apology, for this is really a first in the Republic’s history: So far, statesmen had always maintained the state makes no mistakes. Erdoğan, however, acknowledged not just a mistake but a “massacre,” and even apologized for it.
Of course, sensible people realize this might be the beginning of a new era in which ugly truths in near history, including what really happened to the Armenians in 1915, might be faced. As the cult of the state unravels, the ghosts from the past will emerge from where they are locked by the state.
The tragicomical thing is that Kılıçdaroğlu should be more sensitive about the Dersim issue than Erdoğan, for he himself is from the city. However, like many other Dersimians, his commitment to Kemalism has blinded him to the crimes of Kemalism. For decades, the Alevis of Tunceli were made to believe that “Atatürk did not know about the massacres,” and the real culprit was the “Sunni prejudice” against them. Consequently, they have become lovers of their own killers. Some Turkish liberals have dubbed this as the Alevi version of the Stockholm Syndrome.
What makes Erdoğan more sensitive to Dersim, despite the “Sunni prejudice” that really exists in his party to some extent, is that he represents a segment of Turkish society that has felt oppressed by the state for decades. That is why he has a strong sense of solidarity with the oppressed, which can be seen globally in his support for the Palestinians in Gaza, the Egyptians in Tahrir or the Syrians in Hama.
Within Turkey, too, Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have clashed with the Kemalist state establishment, which they see as the cause of many injustices Turkey has suffered in the past century. The suffering of pious Muslims was the AKP’s main concern, but the distance this concern put between them and the establishment created a new space in which all past crimes of the state could be discussed. That is the main reason why Turkey’s liberals, who have very little popular support, have supported the AKP, albeit sometimes half-heartedly. The Kemalists, on the other hand, have blamed the AKP for being not only too Islamic but also too unpatriotic.
In other words, Kılıçdaroğlu’s recent outburst on Erdoğan’s “Armenian-mindedness” is just one example of a common pattern. Last year, one of the deputies of his party, Ensar Öğüt, had blamed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for deserving to be called “Davutyan,” clearly implying an Armenian origin. Canan Arıtman, another CHP deputy, had made headlines in 2009 by claiming President Abdullah Gül, a former AKP minister, was a “secret Armenian.”
The truth, however, is less conspiratorial. The AKP, out of its own political values and interests, has challenged the cult of the state that permeated Turkey since the 1920s. And the Kemalists, whose minds are not open to think outside of that cult, cannot just get what is really happening.