Why the AKP is silencing its own founder

Why the AKP is silencing its own founder

On May 17, Bülent Arınç, who used to be deputy prime minister in successive Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments until 2015, was supposed to give a talk at Turgut Özal University in Ankara. He was invited by the university administration, and hundreds of students were eager to listen to him. But they could not listen to him, for the administration had to cancel the event at the last minute, due to worries that “provocative events may occur.” 

When you hear that cliché in Turkey – that a conference, meeting of parade has been outlawed due to the worry that “provocative events may happen” – you know that it is nonsense. It is the decades-old blueprint of the authorities to ban anything they don’t like. No wonder the ban on Arınç did not come from a sudden change of heart by the university administration, it rather came as a result of a blunt phone call from the draconian authorities.

Moreover, this was not the only time that conferences by Arınç have been banned. His planned speeches in Kırıkkale, Beykent, Istanbul and Necmettin Erbakan universities were also recently banned. So, he is clearly a man that the current regime in Turkey wants to silence.

And, well, that is a really amazing, amazing phenomenon. Why? Because Arınç is not just any former politician. He is not even just any former AKP grandee. He is one of the three men who founded the AKP 15 years ago. It was him, Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül who came together and established the party, by breaking out from the old Islamist heritage and promising a more “democratic” line. That is why in the AKP’s earlier years, people were speaking about the “triumvirate” of the party. Erdoğan was just one step ahead with his charisma, but he would still consult Gül and Arınç on every major decision.

Now, 15 years later, Erdoğan has become the much-venerated “Chief” of the AKP. Gül is retired and sidelined, whereas Arınç is not only sidelined but also demonized. Hardcore Erdoğanists openly condemn him as a “traitor” to the “Chief,” whose persona has become the embodiment of the party, if not even the nation. 

However, if there is really any “treason” around, it is to the founding principles of the AKP that Arınç still upholds. He, too, noted this in a four-page declaration, which came out as an atomic bomb in the free press, but was totally ignored by the pro-Erdoğan media. Here Arınç condemned those who “imposed bans, silenced people” and those who said “we will destroy you if you criticize me.” This was the old system that the AKP opposed, he reminded, only to add that the AKP has become the very same thing:

“We have fought against bans in the past such as the headscarf ban. But if the people with whom we fought together then have now changed their side, if they have become the ban-imposers due to intoxication with power, then we will see this attack on freedom as the basis for a struggle for freedom.” 

Indeed, Turkey desperately needs yet another “struggle for freedom” today. At this point, I have no idea how exactly it will unfold, but it is significant and invaluable that a name no less great than Arınç is calling for it. It should be a wakeup call even for those who are still in the AKP universe but who still have not been “intoxicated” with the temptation of power.