In an earlier article, I had written about the issues the youth in the East of Turkey had in integrating to the rest of the country, not to mention the issues surrounding their forced assimilation.

The view of Turkey as a synthesis of the East and the West naturally concludes that the voter base in the East opts to elect a political party that stands for democracy, equality and justice. And who, but CHP, is the party that talks about these issues the most. But paradoxically, it is also CHP who faces a disappointment over the voters’ choices in the East in every election.

The divide between the people in the East and the CHP first started in 1937 – 1938 when the tribal leaders in Dersim came into conflict with the Turkish Republic. The military intervention that followed resulted in 13,160 civilian and 110 military casualties. A further 11,838 people were forced to migrate.

This timely intervention sought to exert Turkey’s dominance and halt further concessions may have been largely forgotten in Dersim (Tunceli), but its ramifications continue to haunt the people in the East at large. They continue to be bitter and unsympathetic towards the state.

In contrast, the PKK which was formed in early 1970s, but didn’t become fully operational until 1978, buoyed by the climate and the level of education in the region, managed to gather sympathy and support from the population in Eastern Turkey. We must, of course, not forget about the influence of foreign powers in emboldening the terrorist organization.

We must also remember that all the assignments and compensations done in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia were carried out under the rules of a state of emergency. So, rather than investing in the region’s economic future, Turkey had to, instead, spend the funds on the military which unfortunately resulted in many civilian deaths.

Since Turkey’s transition to a multi-party-political system, the CHP had only one shot at the government with Bulent Ecevit as the prime minister (January 5,1978 – November 12, 1979). Despite constantly being the opposition, the CHP never managed to significantly up their voting rate, and even fell below the 10% Parliamentary threshold in 1999.

The leaders of CHP tenaciously reject to see a basic truth which is forever keeping them from governing this country: that these lands that were under the reign and whims of one absolute ruler for centuries harbor so many values. Conservatism, nationalism, statism, populism, secularism and many others are all deeply rooted beliefs for the peoples of Turkey. But the quality that always comes ahead is conservatism, which is not surprising when we consider that the Ottoman Empire was the official caliphate of Islam for centuries. These lands were subjected to religious law for a very long time. And the leap of faith towards democracy that Turkey attempted does not come easy. CHP never paid attention while pursuing their policies, and they have not been able to further Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s practices from 50 to 60 years ago, and they have neither been able to cultivate the leaders that can take the helm of Ataturk and carry it further.

But perhaps, CHP’s biggest mistake to date was their inefficiency in instilling in people the real meaning and importance of secularism. This led the way for the people to equate secularism to irreligion. Other political parties made good use of this shortcoming, and they have been successfully pushing forward with the “we are a religious organization, but look at the CHP, they are against religion” rhetoric. None other than the current president of Turkey, back when he was the mayor of Istanbul had proclaimed: “you cannot simultaneously be a Muslim and secular.”

Turkey’s early periods may be likened to Phoenix when she rose from her ashes as a mostly Muslim dominated country with a very low literacy rate, and a single party rule was the best route of action by then. What is surprising is the demise of CHP immediately after the transformation into the multi-party system.

What is worse, CHP has lost complete control of the media since 2003, and it is having a hard time to find a medium where it can explain itself. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has been the party’s chair after the sex tape scandal of Deniz Baykal, the previous chair, has so far lost nine of his nine elections and still has the audacity to say, after each election, that AKP was the loser. This outlook propagates the notion that the CHP is perfectly fine with remaining as the opposition forever. Number don’t lie, though: when it comes to elections 50.01% is the winner and %49.9 is the loser.

So, despite CHP’s constant oration about democracy, equality, and justice, people in the East prefer to cast their vote for either HDP, the Kurdish nationalists, or AKP that represents the conservative right. This, despite CHP still being the party of the Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. And it is a well-established fact that unless you win in the East, you will never come into power.

What CHP needs to do is abandon its current tactic where it goes and visits the Eastern provinces right before the elections, and instead lay down a long-term structural plan that will hopefully reverse the negative perception they have been suffering from. The party’s candidates must show merit and competence and they must be well versed to get their point across.

A recent example of this nature happened in 2011 when Zahit Kantasoglu, the then chair of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Van district, opted to run as a CHP candidate after he was dissed from his own party, the AKP. And the CHP saw no problem in playing along, and nominated Kantasoglu as their prime candidate for Van MP.

Here are my questions:

  • Were there not any viable college-graduate candidates in Van at all?
  • When you nominate a person disses from his own party, doesn’t this clearly show CHP’s admittance of defeat for that district?
  • Are we to accept that “learned helplessness” is the one and only option Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia has left?

When talking about doing harm to CHP, it is not possible to overestimate the influence of Kemalists, of course. These lands have always seen their share of religious exploitation. That’s because it is a relatively easy thing to do. But while we criticize the way religion is abused, we also saw Ataturk keychains, Ataturk t-shirts, Ataturk bracelets being sold on TV stations. We still have to endure columnists like Yilmaz Ozdil who lolls against Ataturk and rushes to sell his books. Instances like these where Ataturk is idolized to the point of being a semi-God, have resulted in a backslash from voters. Ataturk is the founder and savior of this country. He belongs to all of us. But one side’s overzealousness towards laying claim to him has resulted in the other side’s disdain for all that he represents.

What needs to be done is to take the appropriate steps to show all the peoples of this country that Ataturk is the common ground of all views shared by the people of Turkey. What needs to be done is to reconcile with the Eastern population who has seriously misjudged the party’s intentions.  What needs to be done is to try and make another Ataturk out of the youth of this country. They need to be working every day, not merely around election time, with candidates with merit, understanding, and common ground with the people. Unless they change their ways, CHP is destined to remain an ineffective opposition party for the next 99 elections.