What is the real purpose of Erdoğan’s Hagia Sophia move?

By Kemal Okuyan

Kemal Okuyan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), discusses the political motives behind President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to transform the Hagia Sophia, a nearly 1500-year-old world heritage monument, into a mosque.

The government has turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque for prayers. Doubtless, there will be an international reaction but not to such an extent that Erdoğan could not risk it. In any case, no one around the world can see beyond the end of their nose right now; everyone is preoccupied with their own problems.

What about the economic results?

Some say that tourists will not come, the stock market will collapse, the dollar will soar; however, these things are already happening in Turkey now. The economy is in such bad straits that the government can tolerate a problem like Hagia Sophia! They can somehow muddle through the situation, while blaming the opponents of the Hagia Sophia move for doing the work of the Crusaders, the Holy Alliance, the business lobby…

Today, the government is maneuvering to free itself from internal pressures. The social base of the AKP-MHP block (the ruling Justice and Development Party and its unofficial partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, also called the People’s Alliance) continues to melt down, and this bleeding cannot be stopped no matter what they do. However, this is not the only factor affecting political balances. The meltdown within the AKP-MHP does not reflect proportionately on the personality of Erdoğan. In other words, Erdoğan continues to be a political actor, beyond his party. Additionally, it is a very disputable argument that the CHP (the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party) is gaining as AKP loses – there is no indication that support for the parliamentary opposition parties has increased.

What has recently bolstered the opposition is the addition of two new parties that emerged from the AKP. Although Ali Babacan (chair of DEVA, the Democracy and Progress Party) and Ahmet Davutoğlu (chair of the Future Party) do not individually pose much of a threat, the 5 percent support they have attracted is highly troubling to Erdoğan.

For years, we have described Erdoğan as a “man who spoils alliances rather than establishing them.” He is good at this job. More precisely, he was good at this job – no matter what it has done, the government has failed to spoil the alliance of the CHP, İYİP (the Good Party), HDP (the Peoples’ Democratic Party), SP (the Felicity Party) and others. The government has attempted many ways to do so; it was close to achieving it during the military operations in Syria and with its recent move to dismiss some opposition lawmakers, but there is an extremely decisive block against it.

Whenever Erdoğan pressures the CHP and İYİP, through the HDP [their political ally, which AKP claims is a front for Kurdish “terrorists” – ed], the opposition block gets damaged. But things are put back on the right track after some influential figures briefly intervene. CHP chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is a very big factor in this, as no development weakens his passion for the Nation Alliance, the opposition alliance against Erdoğan’s ruling People’s Alliance. He had already embraced İYİP and SP, and now he has embraced Babacan and Davutoğlu; therefore, as the CHP leans further towards the right wing, it also reinforced the right wing of the opposition.

Whatever Erdoğan has tried has not worked out. A classified US document said of Chile’s Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity government that was toppled by the fascist Pinochet, “They don’t become provoked, but they thank you even if you spit in their face on the street.” It’s the same tone here in Turkey.

What about this question of the Hagia Sophia?

Albeit from a different angle, the Hagia Sophia move should be seen as yet another effort to interfere with the Nation Alliance. Having failed to spoil the opposition by hammering on the HDP, Erdoğan has now decided to target elements in the Nation Alliance that emerged from National Vision, a traditional Islamic political movement that includes different parties, and from the MHP. So, Hagia Sophia is a perfect choice. The SP is very happy, as is İYİP, and the two AKP-based opposition parties are also part of the picture.

By transforming Hagia Sophia into a mosque Erdoğan has posed the question to the members of the Nation Alliance, apart from the CHP: “What are you doing there?”

However, Erdoğan has not considered Kılıçdaroğlu’s patience. The CHP leader’s fiercest response to the question of Hagia Sophia was something like, “Open it, open it … but you can’t open it.” Then he spoiled the Erdoğan’s “big game” when he said, “If you open it, we promise we won’t criticize you.” In other words, Kılıçdaroğlu has said, “We are from the same neighbourhood as you.”

Does this mean Erdoğan’s move failed?

No, it does not. The secular sentiments of at least half of CHP voters are still lively, despite all attempts by the CHP administration to reverse this. This party’s administration always makes decisions that turn the stomachs of secular voters, but they cannot make secular sentiments vanish into thin air.

In this sense, turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque – blatantly tearing up Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s decree – is not the same thing as making controversial senior appointments to the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality [the CHP has protested the appointment of Can Akın Çağlar, whom it accuses of corruption, to be secretary-general at the municipality – ed]. Disheartenment is inevitable among CHP voters who have desperately clung to the Nation’s Alliance. Erdoğan, this time, is targeting those people in the opposition block whose secular sentiments will cause them to declare, “Enough!”

The funny thing is the CHP will again warn people to not “fall into the trap.” What a pity for the working people who have secular sentiments in Turkey – most likely, they will feel compelled to tolerate further attacks secularism, which has been already abolished, in order to avoid the trap of an Erdoğan re-election…

But we are not the CHP. Our concern is the section of Turkey’s society that have secular sentiments. They are not desperate. They are not as powerless as is thought, so long as they stay away from the real trap. The real trap in Turkey is becoming stuck between the government and the opposition block, both of which are completely under the control of capital and imperialists. The trap in Turkey is inertia and submission, which will lead to the surrender and liquidation of the progressive forces that have built up in the country.

Let me put it clearly: The Nation Alliance, with all its elements, has turned into an operation to completely destroy the country’s resistance, under the fantasy of “defeating Erdoğan in the elections.”

Reprinted from Sol International.

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