Erdoğan’s ‘nation’ and its discontents

Erdoğan’s ‘nation’ and its discontents

On Sept. 29, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech – a furious one, as usual. One of the themes he touched upon were the real citizens of this country versus the bogus ones. “Those who attack the gains of this country do not belong to this homeland,” he said. Among these, he listed not only the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization by most definitions, but also “the owners of media, owners of companies” which supposedly support the PKK. 

The next day, daily Star, one of the many quasi-official mouthpieces of the president, ran a huge headline on its front page which read, “You do not belong to this homeland.” The sub-headline also nicely explained who these unpatriotic people were: the PKK, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the “Parallel” (i.e., the Gülen Movement), and the Doğan Group (i.e., the media group that publishes this very newspaper you are holding in your hand – or this website that you see on your screen.)

One can perhaps understand the presence of the PKK on this list, even if the PKK is mostly made up of Turkish citizens, who may be criminals, but are still components of “this homeland.” The other three, however, are kind of mind-boggling: The HDP is a legitimate political party that won 13 percent of the votes less than four months ago. The Gülen Movement is an Islamic community with a few million members or sympathizers. The Doğan Group is the backbone of mainstream Turkish media, with millions of daily readers and viewers. None of them, however, “belong to this homeland,” according to a president who is supposed to be “impartial” according to our Constitution. 

None of this is surprising, though. Because it perfectly fits into the political rhetoric that President Erdoğan, and his giant propaganda machine, has been using in the past two years. At the heart of this rhetoric, there lies the glorification of “the nation” and its “will.” Yet when you listen carefully, you see that this “nation” is not the sum total of the 77 million citizens of the Republic of Turkey. “The nation” is rather made up those citizens who support “the man of the nation” – as Erdogan was defined in his electoral campaigns in 2014. 

Consequently, Erdogan’s political adversaries, even his critics, constitute a separate category as the “traitors” to this nation. For they serve not this homeland, but the nefarious powers that conspire against it – such as Zionists and other evil cabals in the West. They are like parasites in a healthy body. And the great leader, “the man of the nation,” is giving them the wrath that they deserve.

That is why after every election that gave his Justice and Development Party (AKP) a parliamentary majority, Erdoğan proudly declared: “The nation has won!” He did not say that, though, after the recent elections on June 7, because then the AKP lost its parliamentary majority, meaning “the nation” did not do well. No wonder Erdoğan argued last week that the electorate were “fooled” in the June 7 elections by the HDP. For an HDP victory, by definition, was the victory of not the nation, but its enemies. 

For sure, this peculiar conceptualization of the nation by President Erdoğan raises many questions. For example, why do the “traitors” who “do not belong to this homeland” pay the same amount of taxes as other (i.e., patriotic) citizens? Isn’t it weird for them to finance the very state that declares them as sworn enemies? And isn’t it weird for the state to live off the taxes of the citizens that it demonizes, humiliates and threatens every single day?