Something new under the AKP sun
If you commute around Istanbul these days, you may notice billboards advertising a brand-new paper: Karar. If you are interested in learning what it is and end up checking its already active website, you may conclude that there is nothing interesting about it –that it is just another pro-AKP (Justice and Development Party) newspaper. But let me tell you, this is in fact an interesting paper. For it is pro-AKP but it is not Erdoğanist.
The editors and writers of Karar are longtime veterans of the pro-AKP media. They are the ones who supported the party in its weaker and more modest days. Yet they are also the same people who, in the past 2-3 years, drew the ire of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Word has it that they did not “obey” the commandments of the great leader – or least resisted some of his ambitions. Or, in their columns they dared to criticize him, as friendly and constructive as possible, but only to their own peril.
One of these writers is Hakan Albayrak, whose story I have written in this column before (See “An Islamist critic of Erdoğanism,” Dec. 19, 2015.) He is the one who, despite supporting Erdoğan’s contributions to the Islamist cause, called on him not to create a one-man rule. This led his small newspaper, Diriliş Postası, to lose all its advertising income overnight (“due to phone calls that came from powerful seats,” as Albayrak openly wrote later). In a few weeks, Hakan Albayrak also found himself unemployed.
The editor-in-chief of Karar is Mustafa Karaalioğlu, who used to be the editor-in-chief of daily Star, at a time when the latter paper was not yet the leader-worshipping and hate-mongering mouthpiece it is today. There was even a time Star looked like a pretty reasonable center-right paper, with foreign writers ranging from Fareed Zakaria to Paul Krugman, from the Egyptian Fahmi Huwaydi to the Israeli Gideon Levy (From 2007 to 2014, I was a writer for Star, too.)
So, it is worth pondering what this new daily, Karar, represents and what it can achieve. In my view, it represents the “old AKP.” This was a party mostly made up of religious conservatives but that followed a mainly liberal path: Accession to the European Union, political and legal reforms, new “openings” for minorities, peace with the Kurds and a pragmatic foreign policy.
This old AKP has been gradually replaced by a “new” but quite terrible party in the past three years. All reforms stopped and in fact, some of them have been undone. Different voices in the party have been silenced, as the cult of “Erdoğanism” dominated every level. The pro-AKP media turned into an aggressive propaganda machine, unabashedly threatening and humiliating political opponents.
Sadly, most people in the AKP universe gave themselves to this latter-day zeal, or least kept silent so as not become its target and labelled “traitor.” Only a few important names in the party, such Bülent Arınç, Sadullah Ergin or Hüseyin Çelik, spoke out, and former President Abdullah Gül also sided with them. They are obviously longing for the “old AKP.”
The journalists who now are gathered at Karar are also those seem to miss the old AKP. Apparently they will also try to revive it as much as they can, by at least having a new input to the Turkish public. How much chance they have, I don’t know. But I am glad that they are trying at least.