Prime Minister Erdoğan discriminates, and it works for him

Prime Minister Erdoğan discriminates, and it works for him

Days before the country’s first popular election for the presidency, Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speeches increasingly include references to national origins and religious beliefs.

What he said on Aug. 5 could have been considered a slip of tongue, if we did not know Erdoğan. “They have also said a lot of things about me,” the prime minister said during a live interview when he was asked of his recent discriminative remarks.

“One of them came and said I was a Georgian. Then another came up and, I beg your pardon, called me uglier things, saying I was Armenian,” Erdoğan said, adding that he was a purebred Turk and a Sunni.

This was, unfortunately, not the first time Erdoğan used identities other than Sunni-Turk as a tool of discrimination and even an insult.

(As a small note on Erdoğan complaining about being called a Georgian, during a trip to Georgia on Aug. 11, 2004, the prime minister reportedly said, “I’m a Georgian, too, my family is a Georgian family that immigrated from Batumi to Rize.”)

The prime minister in several rallies before the March 30 local elections said, “You know he is an Alevi,” referring to main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and pausing for a second to allow the crowds to boo the rival.

“There are many books, more than 30 written about us, calling us Jewish, Armenian, excuse my language, Rum [a term used for Greek in Turkey],” he said in an interview on June 10, 2011.

The very small community of Turkey’s atheists had their share of the hate. “We opened a boulevard in Ankara on Feb. 24 despite the [protests of] leftists, despite those atheists,” Erdoğan said at a rally in Balıkesir on Feb. 28. “They are terrorists,” he added.

The prime minister is also comfortable with using the phrase “even the Shiites would not do this” to describe behavior he is complaining about.

Erdoğan often reminds us in his speeches that he is a Sunni, and calls on Kılıçdaroğlu to openly say that he is an Alevi.

There is no problem in a person being proud of his ethnic identity or religious beliefs and openly declaring them. However, there is a huge problem when the prime minister constantly refers to his Sunni-Turkish identity in a country where ethnic and sectarian differences are still a source of social tension.

In this Sunni-dominated country, Erdoğan is aware that there are millions of people who will never vote for Kılıçdaroğlu just because he is an Alevi. Surveys show us that Turkish citizens have little tolerance for “the other,” be they Alevis, Kurds, Jews, Armenians, gays, atheists, etc. The prime minister continues to make much-debated discriminative remarks, similar to the latest one, because he is well-aware that such remarks will bring in more votes to him than they will take away.

The prime minister, since the Gezi protests last year, abandoned his interest – if he had any – in trying to convince those who did not vote for him that he is worth the job. Instead, he launched a campaign to put a line between his supporters and his opposition, and did not shy away from attacking the opposition harshly, calling them “terrorists, assassins, traitors, coup plotters,” etc. With such an aggressive tone, he managed to keep his party’s votes over 45 percent in the March 30 local elections and keep the mayor’s post in major cities.    

In addition, Erdoğan’s remarks on ethnicity and sectarian differences come at a time when hundreds of people are killed every day in Syria and Iraq by murderers who call themselves jihadists. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is brutally executing people in the areas its militants control only because they are not Sunni Muslims (being a non-Sunni Muslim make no sense to these murderers, they consider it even worse than being an “infidel”).

The very same bunch of murderers have been keeping 49 people they kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz and two babies, hostage for 57 days. We have little information on their situation, since there is a gag order on the issue.

Erdoğan, who describes ISIL as an “armed element” rather than a terrorist group, is so busy with the presidential campaign and people’s ethnic roots that the only thing he does about the issue is to slam the opposition for bringing up the hostage situation.

That’s how a “world leader” rolls.