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An AKP-Ulusalcı axis?

by Emre Uslu, Today's Zaman on . Posted in Columns

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Turkey’s foremost thinker, Etyen Mahçupyan, in the Zaman daily, underlined an interesting rapprochement between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı) camp in Turkey.

Mahçupyan listed a number of indicators to provide evidence for his argument. Indeed, the indicators he gives are worrisome and show possible convergence between the two camps.

Here, I will further explain why such a convergence is possible. First, both the neo-nationalists and the AKP government share a similar fear of outside political actors. For instance, many influential AKP leaders (not the AKP’s voting base) believe the Gülen movement is associated with the US and Israel and functions as a tool to deepen US and Israeli interests inside Turkey. This argument is not a new one to the neo-nationalist camp. They are the ones who have been promoting this idea to use it as a tool against the Gülen movement, and the AKP government, too, for that matter.

After the Mavi Marmara crisis, when the Gülen movement criticized the way the AKP government handled the process, many AKP leaders took the criticism as a sign of rupture between the two political groups.

Secondly, an influential group within the AKP leadership shares a similar view to the neo-nationalist camp when it comes to foreign policy preferences. They both do not trust the West as much as they trust Iran and the Muslim leaders around Turkey. Thus, both the neo-nationalists and this group within the AKP promote the idea of distancing Turkey from the West and establishing better relations with the Middle and Far East.

Given the fact that the political climate in the European Union is not all that positive toward Turkey, this group within the AKP and the neo-nationalists work toward the same purpose of establishing better relations with the East. Will they be successful in distancing Turkey from the West? No, it is not all that easy. But they may successfully turn the Turkish political climate against the European Union, democratic reforms, etc.

Third, both the AKP and the neo-nationalists share a base of people who disagree with the Armenian genocide claims. As 2015 approaches, the 100th anniversary of the events draws near. The AKP government simply funds anti-Armenian activities around the world, including funding academics to publish books and so-called NGOs to campaign against Armenian genocide claims, etc. One could easily argue that although the AKP government fought against the “establishment” in Ankara, it has maintained strong relations with the “establishment abroad.” The “establishment abroad” means the group, mainly in the US and Europe, that has been receiving funding from the Turkish “deep state” to fight against the Armenian claims. For instance, while the AKP government fought with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the country, Şükrü Elekdağ, a former diplomat and CHP deputy, was always treated well and promoted traditional Turkish positions abroad.

It seems that the AKP realized that the close partnership with the neo-nationalist power centers abroad could also be established inside Turkey. Since the military is no longer a threat to the AKP government and since the judiciary is no longer an opposition force to the AKP government, it seems that the AKP government has found many things in common with neo-nationalist circles to establish better relations.

Given the fact that leading AKP figures, such as Bülent Arınç and Beşir Atalay, send friendly signals to Ergenekon circles, it is likely we will see much closer relations between the AKP and neo-nationalists. At the very least, it seems that the AKP will refrain from fighting with the neo-nationalist camp, which would bring the two camps much closer in the near future.