How are the relations between AKP and MHP

Ultranationalists in TurkeyErdogan's pact with right-wing extremists

Raindrops patter on Recep Tayyip Erdogan's black screen. The Turkish president has come in the pouring rain to visit his ally: Devlet Bahceli, chairman of the right-wing extremist Turkish nationalist party. "Elhamdulillah, rahmetle geldik", he is coming with God's blessing, says Erdogan in greeting. Then the two of them retreat into the house for deliberations.

Troubles in Erdogan's government

They shouldn't be easy, says the journalist and long-time Erdogan observer Rusen Cakir: "This is the third meeting of Erdogan with Bahceli in a short time. I think things are not going so smoothly between the two at the moment. Erdogan wants to announce reforms and improve relations with the European Union and the United States - that gets him into trouble with Bahceli. "

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Devlet Bahceli (l.) (Picture alliance / AP Photo | Burhan Ozbilici)

Erdogan cannot afford trouble with Bahceli because he is dependent on his small party of the nationalist movement, the MHP, to maintain his power. Even more, my observers like the journalist Can Dündar: Erdogan is now downright at the mercy of the nationalists, Dündar recently warned on his exile broadcaster "Özgürüz".

"Everyone thinks that Bahceli is only serving as a majority funder for Erdogan, but in reality he has forced Erdogan into his ideological corner and can dictate everything to him: which ministers he brings into his cabinet, which advisers he dismisses, which mafiosi he pardons. And when Erdogan now promises reforms, Bahceli can force him to swallow his words again. Bahceli and his small party have taken the most powerful man in Turkey hostage. Erdogan bears the drum, but Bahceli beats the beat. "

Intransparent power relations

How the balance of power in the alliance is exactly balanced is controversial among observers, as the American Turkey expert Nicholas Danforth of the Athens think tank ELIAMEP says. In his opinion, it is also certain that the government is becoming more and more nationalistic.

"Since the beginning of Erdogan's alliance with Bahceli, scholars have been arguing about which of the two actually has the say in it. Some argue that the MHP controls Erdogan and stifles his pragmatic instincts in pursuit of their own radical goals. Others argue like that I mean that Erdogan is still in charge and that it is all right with him that Bahceli is publicly pushing for a radical policy - a ban on the Kurdish party and an aggressive stance against the West. "

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Devlet Bahceli is not well known outside of Turkey, although he has been in politics much longer than Erdogan. The 73-year-old never travels abroad, apart from the Turkish part of Cyprus, and doesn't care about the limelight. This sometimes makes it difficult for foreign countries to clearly see the true balance of power in Turkey, says the political scientist Halil Karaveli, author of the book "Why Turkey is Authoritarian".

Karaveli: "Many believe that everything in Turkey is determined by Erdogan, that he is an all-powerful sultan. But that is wrong and always has been. Erdogan has always been dependent on other forces in order to be able to rule."

Right-wing extremists took the place of Gülenists

For a decade it was the so-called Gülenists - the supporters of the preacher Fethullah Gülen, who supported Erdogan for ten years after he took office as Prime Minister in 2003 until the two fell out in 2013. Since then, Bahceli and his nationalists have found themselves in the void, says former MP Aykan Erdemir, who now works at the FDD think tank in Washington.

"The corruption scandal involving Erdogan and his inner circle of relatives and ministers in December 2013 led to the break of his ten-year alliance with the preacher Fethullah Gülen and his supporters," said Erdemir.

And further: "When the AKP then lost its parliamentary majority in June 2015, it caused Erdogan to merge with Bahceli and the MHP, which helped him regain a majority in the new elections in November 2015. Since then, Erdogan has been dependent on Bahceli for himself to secure the parliamentary majority. "

Majority for Erdogan thanks to nationalists

That has worked so far. With his support, Erdogan was also able to just win the referendum on the introduction of the presidential system from 2017 and be re-elected president in 2018.

In the parliamentary elections, the MHP itself always only manages to cross the Turkish ten percent hurdle with a bang. Since the last election, however, she no longer has to tremble about entering parliament - Erdogan's government had its electoral law changed, so that the MHP can now be lifted into the parliament by the AKP via a list connection. Both sides benefit from the alliance, says Erdemir.

Attempted coup in Turkey 2016 (imago / Muhammed Alikaj)

Erdogan pays for the deal with the MHP both with content-related concessions to the nationalists, who can now have a say in his politics, and with positions in the state apparatus, says Erdemir: "The MHP has traditionally already dominated the security apparatus in Turkey. Due to the recent waves of cleansing the bureaucracy and the political nepotism in filling these posts has now enabled them to expand their position in Turkish politics. "

Since the attempted coup in the summer of 2016, posts in the state apparatus have been filled en masse. Around 150,000 officials and state employees were dismissed at the time - they were believed to be supporters of Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of the attempted coup.

"MHP is a product of the Cold War"

It is downright fascinating how determinedly and quickly the supporters of the MHP have since risen to key positions in the military, judiciary and bureaucracy and have become the determining force there, says the political scientist Halil Karaveli - right up to the government: Defense Minister Hulusi Akar should be on a proposal from Bahceli to be in the cabinet. And what does the MHP want to use the levers of power, what is its political goal?

Halil Karaveli: "The MHP is a product of the Cold War. It was founded in 1969 by a former officer named Alparslan Türkes - he was a colonel in a special unit, trained in the USA and probably had close ties to the American secret service, the CIA. The mission It was the MHP to fight the Turkish left, which then grew stronger in the 1960s and 1970s. The MHP was basically a fascist fighting force that killed left-wing students, university teachers and trade unionists. "

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The goal has long been achieved and outdated - with significant involvement of the notorious "Gray Wolves", which were founded as the youth association of the MHP and terrorized the country as death squads in the 1970s. The military coup of 1980 dealt the Turkish labor and student movement the fatal blow; there is no longer a classic left in Turkey today. The MHP now has a different mission, says Karaveli:

"The new mission of the MHP since the 1990s and acute now has been to attack the Kurds. Just as the Turkish state saw the left as the main enemy at the time and used the MHP as a weapon to eliminate it, today it is the Kurds who the state is regarded as the main enemy - and again the MHP is being used against it, albeit a little more discreetly and less brutally than then. The MHP is, so to speak, the Turkish state's strike force. "

Radical break with Kurdish politics

In fact, there has been a radical break in Turkish Kurdish policy since the MHP was on board in Ankara. For years Erdogan had campaigned for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict - in the end it seemed within reach:

Negotiators of the Turkish government and the Kurdish party HDP announced a breakthrough in February 2015 and presented a joint ten-point plan to strengthen the rights of the Kurds and end the fighting; The terrorist organization PKK and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan should also be involved in the peace process.

Even after the parliamentary elections in June 2015, in which the AKP lost its majority, anything seemed possible for a few weeks. Under its then chairman Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP even considered supporting an AKP minority government from outside in order to save the peace process. But Erdogan opted for the MHP - and Selahattin Demirtas has been behind bars for the fifth year now.

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"How strong the influence of the MHP is on Turkish politics is shown most clearly by the U-turn that Ankara has made on the Kurdish question. In February 2015, Turkish troops and the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG joined forces on the Euphrates. Turkey has not yet only criminalized their own Kurdish opposition, but also declared their former partners a terrorist organization by the YPG and invaded northern Syria three times, "said Erdemir.

The swing cost Turkey a high price in terms of foreign policy, as it brought it into conflict with the USA in northern Syria, which allied itself with the Syrian Kurdish militia in the fight against the Islamic State. The new course bears the unmistakable signature of Bahceli and his nationalists, says Erdemir:

"Erdogan's policy used to be anti-nationalist, he always emphasized the transnational ties of the Muslim community. But recently Erdogan's policy on this issue has not differed rhetorically, practically or from the MHP line."

15,000 supporters of the Kurdish party HDP arrested

Domestically, the result is the consistent repression of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. More than 15,000 supporters of the Kurdish HDP party have been arrested in the past five years, and the wave of arrests continues.

Members of parliament were deprived of their immunity and imprisoned; In the HDP-governed municipalities, the elected mayors have been replaced by administrators from Ankara. Devlet Bahceli is now even calling for the HDP to be banned. Political scientist Halil Karaveli:

"The MHP is pushing for it, but Erdogan is reluctant - because he wants proximity to the European Union, because he is looking for rapprochement with the USA, because he needs economic support from the West."

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For weeks Erdogan has been announcing a return to reforms. However, nothing has happened so far, on the contrary: When an adviser to the President recently publicly pleaded to initiate the reform phase with the release of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, he had to resign the next day - under pressure from the MHP, as is suspected in Ankara.

It is also noticeable that Erdogan has visited the boards of several smaller opposition parties on the conservative side of the political spectrum in recent weeks, apparently to sound out their willingness to work together.

"Opposition circles believe that Erdogan's alliance with the MHP has come to an end and that Erdogan's promises of reform are recruiting new allies. My sources in the opposition consider Erdogan's reform announcements to be an attempt to free himself from Bahceli - only he can't do it alone because he is too dependent on Bahceli. These opposition circles want to help Erdogan out of the impasse so that he can get back on democratic ground, "says journalist Rusen Cakir in his Internet channel" Medyascope ".

"Bahceli is the one who pulls the strings"

This is precisely why the MHP is pushing for a ban on the Kurdish party, says Karaveli - in order to forestall such initiatives and nail Erdogan to their line. Above all, the MHP wants to prevent rapprochement with the West, says Karaveli, especially with the USA - and that is a historically new quality:

"The right wing of the Turkish nationalists, which the MHP represents, has always been pro-Western - because they were against the Soviet Union and against communism, because they were in a sense founded by the CIA. But since the US has been supporting the Kurds in Syria the Turkish right-wing nationalists turned their backs on America. They now see the USA as a threat to Turkey, just as the Soviet Union used to do, and they now have an anti-American stance.

Now Erdogan is stuck between Bahceli and the West - a very dangerous situation, says Karaveli:

"This is an exciting game between Bahceli and Erdogan, and the question arises: If Erdogan doesn't do what Bahceli wants on the Kurdish question, i.e. what the security apparatus wants - what does the apparatus do with Erdogan? Something will happen in Turkey in the near future, maybe assassinations or the like - something that makes Erdogan look bad in the West, because if something bad happens in Turkey, then Erdogan will automatically be blamed there - and no one will see that it is actually Bahceli pulling the strings. "

Ex-foreign minister warns Erdogan against liquidation

A drastic guess, but Karaveli is not alone in this. A warning has now also come from Ahmet Davutoglu, who for a long time belonged to Erdogan's closest advisory group, served him for years as foreign minister and was prime minister until 2015; in the meantime he has left the AKP and founded a new party that opposes Erdogan.

The president no longer has the reins in his own hands, Davutoglu warned in a television interview: "Erdogan is under the dictates of forces from the security apparatus, they have him in a pincer Erdogan got the votes: They stood behind Erdogan and shot over his shoulder to hit their target - and from the outside it looked as if Erdogan was leading the country. This is how the forces in the security apparatus do it today: They send Erdogan in front of him, to get the votes, but they rule the country. "

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That will not go long for Erdogan himself, warned Davutoglu: "These forces want to establish an authoritarian regime and decouple Turkey from the West. To achieve this, they will do the same as the Gülenists did in the attempted coup in July 2016: they will try To liquidate Erdogan and take over the country himself. I warned Erdogan when the presidential system was introduced that he would lose control over it. "

High Noon for the Turkish President?

So high noon for Erdogan? Not all observers believe that the president would lose in the shoot-out with Bahceli. Aykan Erdemir, the former MP:

"Even if, in the opinion of many observers, the MHP has amassed enough power to dictate its terms to Erdogan, one should never forget how skillfully the president has sidelined and eliminated previous tactical partners. It would be a mistake to underestimate Erdogan."

But even if Erdogan should win this power struggle, Devlet Bahceli and his right-wing extremist nationalists have had a major impact on Turkey and its president over the past five years, fears Turkey expert Danforth - with long-term consequences for relations with the West.

"In my opinion, the real danger is that Erdogan has actually made the worldview of the MHP his own," said Danforth. "He feels betrayed by everyone who advised him to work with the Gülenists, the Kurds and the West, while the MHP has always warned him against it. Whatever happens: I fear that nationalism, Erdogan and that the MHP welds together, will not disappear - and that it will make life difficult for the USA and Europe for a long time to come. "