Turkey might export domestic political tension to diaspora

Domestic political tension caused by a sweeping graft probe may be transmitted to Turkey’s diaspora through election rallies to be held in Europe by contesters in Turkey’s upcoming presidential race, analysts fear.

“In times of elections, people from Turkey who live in Europe experience the [political] tension in Turkey in the same, and in fact in a deeper way, than the tension experienced in their motherland,” said Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at İstanbul Bilgi University.

In the presidential election to be held in August, Turkey, a parliamentary democracy, will for the first time elect a president by popular vote. Turks living abroad will also vote in the presidential election in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to run.

Candidates who will run for president in the upcoming election are expected to also hold rallies in various European countries where a significant number of the Turkish diaspora lives.

Around four-and-a-half million people from Turkey, around two-and-a-half million of whom are estimated to be eligible to vote, live in various European countries. Germany, where nearly 3 million Turkish people live, is the country that hosts the biggest number of Turks. France comes second with more than 600,000, the Netherlands third with more than 450,000, Austria fourth with around 270,000 and Belgium comes fifth with nearly 200,000.

The political tension, which increased considerably with the Gezi Park protests that broke out at the beginning of last summer, has come to an all-time high since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, when a wide-ranging graft probe was made public on Dec. 17 of last year.

As part of the probe, in which Prime Minister Erdoğan may also be implicated considering a number of audios leaked over the Internet, four former Cabinet ministers had to leave their posts.

Kaya thinks tension may increase among the Turkish diaspora in Europe, as the diaspora will also vote in the presidential election. “It is only natural to expect that the diaspora of an already divided and polarized society would be even more divided and polarized,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.

During the Gezi Park protests, which — although they began out of environmentalist concerns — quickly turned into anti-government protests that spread all over the country, Erdoğan used insulting and discriminative language towards protesters. During the protests, six people lost their lives due to a violent police crackdown, while some were seriously injured. Erdoğan called protesters who took to the streets “looters.”

Some time after the graft probe broke, as leaked audio recordings, if genuine, revealed that Prime Minister Erdoğan was also involved in corruption, main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced that he would no longer call Erdoğan prime minister, but “başçalan,” head of the thieves. Erdoğan, who dismissed accusations against himself and some former members of the government as baseless, has claimed that the corruption probe is a plot against the government.

European diplomats in Ankara — from countries that host a significant number of Turkish immigrants — have also expressed their concern, on condition of anonymity, that Turkey’s domestic political tension may be exported to their own countries on the eve of the presidential election in Turkey.

Kaya of İstanbul Bilgi University has the impression that the ruling AK Party has been making efforts, the same way some nationalists figures did to various groups in the diaspora before the presidential election of 2007, to organize the Turkish diaspora in Europe under the Union of European Turkish Democrats, whose headquarters are in Germany. Concerned that such a step could further provoke polarization among the Turkish diaspora, Kaya said, “This time, the tension may emerge on the divergence between seculars and Islamists and between Sunnis and Alevis instead of between Turks and Kurds.”

The presidential election will be held on Aug. 10. If no candidate manages to receive more than half the votes, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will compete in a runoff to be held on Aug. 24, and the candidate who receives the most votes will become president. Turkish citizens abroad are   likely to cast their votes between July 31 and Aug. 3 at Turkish consulates and embassies.

In contrast, Faruk Şen, president of the Turkish-German Foundation for Education and Scientific Research (TAVAK), is not all that pessimistic. Şen, who does not think any kind of violence should be expected among the Turkish diaspora due to the presidential race in Turkey, has told Sunday’s Zaman: “Turks living abroad did not resort to violence even when the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] attacked Turkish ambassadors.” At the end of 2012, the government launched a settlement process with the jailed leader of the PKK aimed at resolving the country’s Kurdish issue and terrorism problem.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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