Middle East Controversy on federalizing Turkey leaves negative mark on Sunday referendum

Controversy on federalizing Turkey leaves negative mark on Sunday referendum
A Turkish flag flutters near the monument of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at Taksim Square in Istanbul, June 24, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – A flaring debate on prospects of a federal Turkey culminated with fears of Kurdish self-rule created disunity among Turkish voters and leaders as the country prepares for a referendum.

The Sunday vote will determine whether to give unprecedented powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

The controversy arose after a chief advisor to Erdogan, Sukru Karatepe, published a piece in a magazine of the Ankara municipality last week.

Karatepe wrote he favored strengthening local administrations under an executive presidential system in the foundationally unitary Turkish Republic.

The advisor’s suggestion was met with harsh reaction from the leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli.

Bahceli has become Erdogan’s main ally for a “yes” vote on the constitutional changes that, if approved by the people, will do away with the current parliament governance.

The MHP leader called on Erdogan to sack his advisor, accusing the latter of “sabotaging” the alliance between MHP and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“If the President is keeping silent, if he is in the same view, then in the referendum what decision could the Ulkucus who are against federalism give,” Bahceli asked on the NTV news channel Thursday.

Ulkucus are the hardline, Turkish-Islamist nationalists within the MHP who in the 1960s and 70s fought as urban militias against leftists.

Today, the nationalists continue to push for a fervent military campaign to put down any Kurdish demands.

In response, Erdogan defended his advisor, but on Friday said they had no such agenda as the federation or stronger administrative entities, stating he was a “stalwart defender” of the unitary state.

The leading “no” campaign organizer Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu expressed surprise at Bahceli’s reaction.

Kilicdaroglu who represents a voter base known as Kemalists, loyal to the legacy of the Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, told the media in Istanbul that “dismembering Turkey was spoken of countless times,” reminding of Erdogan’s previous praise of federalism.

Kemalist and nationalist media began circulating footage of a television program in 2004, a then new Prime Minister Erdogan had said an executive presidency also required a federalized state.

In 2013, Erdogan praised the Ottoman Empire’s strength which he reasoned as stemming from its dissolution of distribution of power to large provinces such as Kurdistan.

Advisor Karatepe later refuted the accusations against him on CNN Turk, claiming his words were “immorally” twisted.

No party official or lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has commented on the controversy.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on his part declared Turkey could not be federalized.

“Anyone who tries to divide this homeland will find 80 million people blocking him,” he noted.

 

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany