‘Ottoman Hearths’ accused in attacks targeting parties, media

‘Ottoman Hearths’ accused in attacks targeting parties, media

With its logo resembling the symbol of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its devotion to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a new youth organization stands accused of attacking political party headquarters and media buildings in Turkey.

The Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) provincial chair Mehmet Bülent Karataş said they think that two mob attacks targeting daily Hürriyet’s headquarters in Istanbul on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8 were “organized through the Ottoman Hearths, a group that was established by the AKP.”

The media was not the only target of violent protesters. On Sept. 8, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) headquarters in Ankara’s Sincan district was among dozens of party buildings, most of them belonging to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), attacked by angry mobs throughout Turkey.

CHP Secretary General Gürsel Tekin, as well the party’s district headquarters, claimed that the assailants who vandalized the building presented themselves as members of the Ottoman Hearths.

But who are the Ottoman Hearths?

In fact, the group is not so new. It was established as a magazine in 2005 during the heyday of AKP-driven neo-Ottomania in Turkey. Then in 2009, the magazine registered itself as an association, mainly for politically-active youths longing for the good old Ottoman Empire.

Because of the term “hearth,” many people suggested that it was the AKP’s answer to the youth organizations of the right-wing MHP and the Great Union Party (BBP): The Idealist Hearths and Alperen Hearths, respectively. 

The rise of the Ottoman Hearths was triggered when the head of the Alperen Hearths broke party lines last year. The BBP chair supported the joint presidential candidate of the MHP and the CHP against the AKP’s candidate Erdoğan. In an unprecedented move, the head of the Alperen Hearths opposed the decision and was subsequently dismissed from the party. 

After this intra-party schism, grassroots members of the Alperen Hearths were divided. Many opted to join the rising Ottoman Hearths, including Kadir Canpolat, who is now the chair of the Ottoman Hearths. 

Turkey’s Nokta magazine visited the group’s cosy headquarters in a skyscraper in Ankara and published an interview with Canpolat on Aug. 24. 

Are the Ottoman Hearths linked in any way to the AKP?

According to Nokta magazine, Canpolat was briefly detained in 2006 upon claims that his group was preparing to launch an “armed action” against Pope Benedict during his visit to Turkey. Another suspect was Mustafa Öztürk, a friend of Canpolat, who was also arrested during the investigation into the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

The Hearths’ HQ is decorated with Ottoman paraphernalia and photos of Erdoğan, who Canpolat said in April was the person who made the group possible. “The Idealist Hearths [of the MHP] are located in a plaza more luxurious than ours,” he told the magazine. 

While admitting his admiration for Erdoğan, Canpolat stressed that his organization is not linked to the AKP, also known as AK Parti. “Yes, our logo was initially quite similar to the AK Parti, but now we are trying to distance ourselves from it, although we are voting for it,” he said, adding that they have had some disagreements with the AKP headquarters.

AKP Deputy Chair Ekrem Erdem said on Sept. 11 that his party “had neither an official nor an emotional link to the Ottoman Hearths,” claiming that drawing a parallel between the two carried only “bad intentions.”

Although an AKP deputy gave a threatening speech in front of daily Hürriyet as the newspaper building was first being attacked by protesters earlier this week, there is no evidence that the Ottoman Hearths were involved in any of the recent attacks.

The identity of the perpetrators of the second attack targeting Hürriyet remains completely in the dark, as all suspects have been released. Accusing the Ottoman Hearths, the MHP also claims that angry mobs hijacked the party’s “Grey Wolf” hand gesture to hide their true identities.

But Canpolat rejected all claims in an interview with pro-AKP newspaper Star on Sept. 11, accusing the followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, the AKP’s ally-turned-archenemy. “[Gülenists] established organizations resembling us. They are committing this violence,” he said, claiming to be victim of a conspiracy.

According to Nokta magazine, one of the membership conditions of the Ottoman Hearths is rejecting violence and physical fights. Another condition apparently stresses full loyalty to Erdoğan: “Being a burial shroud-wearing soldier for the burial shroud-wearing leader.”