Turkish Opposition Party, CHP, Visits U.S.A After 37 Years


Photo by PITAPOLICY: Kemal Kilicdaroglu at the Kenney Auditorium of the Johns Hopkins SAIS building.


“The government in Ankara is democratic in name only,” wrote the head of a Turkish opposition party in the Wall Street Journal.  On December 4th, after 37 years since its last visit to the United States, one of Turkey’s main political opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party, CHP, addressed audiences in Washington, DC, which has a sizable Turkish diaspora.  The CHP party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, described his party’s foreign policy vision at the  Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Turkey is a country representing over 80 million and applauded for its “Turkish Model of Democracy” in the Middle East and beyond.  Even before Turkey’s bold move with Brazil to initiate a deal with Iran, Turkey has certainly elevated its regional leader status.  So we naturally expected the forum to focus mostly on Turkish foreign policy.  But much of the discussion touched upon Turkey’s domestic politics (Gezi Park)–perhaps because the CHP’s leader charged the current Turkish government as moving towards authoritarian practices and welcomed questions on press freedom and monitoring the 2014 elections.  It will be the first time Turkey’s 52 millioin-ish registered voters will be able to vote directly for its president– a feat that has not yet been accomplished in the United States.

The 40 minute Q & A session was co-hosted by the Sirdar Group where Kemal Kilicdaroglu opened with a video by the CHP explaining why Turkey’s Gezi Park incident last summer calls for more government accountability.  In fact, his party has produced an English version of its report “The Aftermath: Turkish Government’s Relation to Gezi”.   (Turkish article on CHP) The snazzy video could provide a few tips to opposition parties around the world who dislike their opponents because the CHP narrative focused on protestor images, included a strong narrative on domestic Turkish media, framed the incident as an environmentalist concern as well as a peaceful youth effort to organize.  If a political party were to run just on the Gezi Park incident, that may not guarantee an easy win, though.  (Opposition parties, like the GOP in the U.S. should probably take note on how to propagate without demonizing SUPPORTERS of opposition party.)

What was most disappointing was that the questions on Armenia and investigating the massacre of Armenians met anger by other audience members–as if the whole discussion on sequestering the political and media voices in Turkey was somehow disjointed from this conversation.

Other topics, like the ruling Justice & Development Party’s “Good Neighbor Policy” fell under attack.  Kilicdaroglu stated point blank that Prime Minister has failed to achieve any success in expanding regional relations.  For example, he cited Egypt and Iraq’s tense relationship with Turkey.  Recently, Egypt’s government deemed Turkey’s ambassador “persona non grata” and Kilicdaroglu expressed his disappointment by chastising the AKP for being a “bad neighbor beginning with its deteriorating relations with Egypt”.
  • The CHP visited Egypt in an effort to repair Turkish relations with them.
  • We would like to see Palestine as an independent state,” stated the CHP leader. Furthermore, the future of Syria’s crisis must be resolved through a forum like Geneva2, he stated as he explained that Geneva 2 was a policy recommendation that the CHP presented two years ago.  In his view, Turkey’s ruling party has faltered in its dealings with Syria by allowing arms to pass through borders into the hands of Al Qaeda operating in Syria.
  • The CHP welcomes Iran’s nuclear deal through the P5+1 process–regardless of the political posturing accusations Iran faces with pursuing a nuclear program.CHP also discussed Turkey’s controversial battle with the European Union in gaining membership. “Both sides r to blame,” explained Kemal Turkey didn’t implement all the reforms recommended by the European Union.”  At the same time, however, the EU applied  stated Kilicdaroglu.

Full membership of Turkey to EU is a goal of the CHP.  Kilicdaroglu continued, “We must ask why this hasn’t happened yet.”  What are the steps Kilicdaroglu recommends to pursue this goal–regardless if the CHP wins power or not in Turkey’s 2014 elections, is our question.  Is the CHP’s platform on the Gezi Park incident enough to galvanize more supporters for a 2014 win?  Or is the CHP’s frustration with current foreign policy regarding Egypt, Syria, Iraq more reflective of Turkish voters?

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