Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grey Wolf Attacks on BDP Politicians

Ultra-nationalist youth attacked two people distributing waivers for Labor, Democracy, and Freedom Block candidate Emrullah Bingul in Izmit, a town just outside Istanbul (and where I spent my first year in Turkey). The attackers were reported to be Grey Wolves, a fascist youth organization connected to the ultra-nationalist MHP. The attack took place at a mosque near the main municipal building where supporters of the BDP and the Labor Party (EMEP) were distributing campaign material.

The previous day, the convoy of candidate Levent Tuzel, a member of the same party block, was attacked in Istanbul, also reportedly by Grey Wolves.

The Grey Wolves have a nasty past. Linked to numerous attacks on leftists since the 1970s, including assassinations and wholesale massacres of Turks who deviate from their Turkish-Sunni chauvinist idealism, the youth groups are still around and attack vulnerable targets when tensions are high.

In the wake of a massive sex scandal, the MHP is still hovering at around 10% in public opinion polls, the threshold parties must meet in order to enter parliament. If the the MHP falls under this threshold, ultra-nationalism, a force in Turkey that has been on the decline in recent years (though there were huge outbursts in 2007) will no longer be represented in parliament. However, there is legitimate fear that the party, which has renounced violence, might become more reactionary should this come to fruition.

For a bit more about the ultra-nationalist right, see this early post from 2008. An excerpt:
Although the early [MHP] was not particularly successful in electoral politics, it gained notoriety when it founded its youth organization, the Hearths of the Ideal (Ülkü Ocakları). Members of the group began to call themselves the "Grey Wolves" ("Bozkurtlar") and the group soon took on a paramilitary dimension when it opened camps to train members to engage in violent acts against the Turkish left. The enemy of the time was not Islamist, but communist, and the Grey Wolves became an increasing threat to those who it saw as opposed to their Sunni Muslim-Turkish identity. By the late 1970s, political violence against the left was rife and reveals itself most violently in the slaughter of Alevis that took place in Kahramanmaraş in December 1978 when well over 100 Alevis were murdered in a pogrom organized by the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves had two reasons to hate the Alevis: first, they practice a heterodox form of Shi'a Islam that was at odds with their Sunni bigotry, and second, the Alevis were generally aligned with the left. It is also likely that the group was responsible for the May Day violence of 1977 in which 39 people lost their lives when unknown gunmen opened fire on leftist protesters and operated with the cooperation of some sectors of the Turkish Armed Forces as part of the theorized "deep state" (see Jan. 25 post).

Violent acts were also engaged in on the part of the extreme left, but did not compare to the prolific heinousness of the Grey Wolves. Indeed, the violence of both groups attributed to the political instability that the military coup of 1980 claimed as justification for their political intervention. After the military seized control in September of that year, it closed down all political parties, began work on a new constitution, and arrested and tortured several people it claimed to be trouble-makers. Those arrested included Türkeş and members of the Grey Wolves, but the principal aim of the military was to end what it saw as an emerging threat coming from the radical Turkish left (a view it had in common with the Grey Wolves). As in Iran in the 1970s, several leftists were detained for indefinite periods of time in political prisons and subjected to tortured. Interestingly, there is evidence that implicates United States-CIA involvement in the coup and that puts these events in the Cold War context in which they occurred.

It is interesting to think of how exogenous the events at Akdeniz seems in the stalemate of the current political climate. The factors for this stalemate are twofold: first, the moderation of the radical right to a degree that it is now able to represent itself in the form of an establishment party; second, the demise of the Turkish left to such a degree that its policies now seem more in line with the far right than with its own history (see Feb. 12 post).

To explain the first factor, it is necessary to understand the development of MHP in the post-coup years. In many ways, the 1980 coup tamed it and with its reconstitution in 1983, MHP began to move past its involvement in paramilitary activities and at the same time seek a greater role in electoral politics. With the death of Türkeş in 1997, Bahçeli further moderated the party's positions while also seeking to expand its base by appealing to pious Muslim voters with strong natioanlist leanings. The party became declared its opposition to the türban ban at universities and argued that türban-wearing women should be able to work in government. In 1999, the party won 18 percent of the vote thanks to this more religious platform and promises to execute Abdullah Öcalan.

Some have attributed the rise of MHP as symptomatic of an increase in nationalist feeling in recent years, but others have pointed to the party's success as rooted in the turbulent political situation in which Turkey found itself when the old center-right parties weakened in the closing years of the 1990s. Worthy of examination is Bülent Aras and Gökcen Bacık's 2000 article, "The Rise of the Nationalist Action Party and Turkish Politics" in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics (Vol. 6:2, pp. 48-64), in which the authors argue the latter.
Given that MHP's meeting the 10% threshold is the big question for the upcoming June 12 elections, I thought it might be useful to link back to this so readers can get more of a sense of the party's origins and just where it stands in the Turkish political landscape.

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