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Aykan Erdemir

Turkey – where everyone believes God is on their side

Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Ahmet Davutoğlu gestures during a press conference at the party headquarters in Ankara on 17 August 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Six days after Turkey reluctantly joined the US war effort against ISIS with its first-ever strikes in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu addressed his party’s legislators in parliament and declared, “Allah bizden yanadır”– “God is on our side.”

 

In the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), the claim to divine sponsorship is often received with enthusiasm. In fact, Davutoğlu was simply emulating the success of former AKP leader and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who would allow his addresses as prime minister to be interrupted by supporters chanting, “God is on our side.”

 

The phrase is borrowed from the poem “Not Far from Revolution” by Nurullah Genç — also known as “the prime minister’s poet” — who was recently rewarded with a board membership at Turkey’s Central Bank. Genç’s verses celebrate the imminence of a revolution towards a new world order, and pronounce execution as the proper sentence for the world’s “tyrants.” Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, however, go one step further than the poet. While Genç’s poem exults that “faith is on our side,” AKP acolytes favor the even more self-assured (and self-righteous) “God is on our side.”

 

ISIS militants used the same mantra in justifying their acts of violence against a Turkish journalist last year. It is worth noting that ISIS has grown increasingly influential in Turkey: in a recent poll, 29% of Turkish citizens said they do not see ISIS as a threat, and 2% of AKP voters said they even feel sympathy toward the group.

 

The AKP is not the only party in constitutionally secular Turkey with exclusive claims to divine patronage. Turkey’s Hezbollah (Arabic for “Party of God,” but a separate entity from its better-known Lebanese namesake), would often refer to its archenemy — the separatist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) — as Hizbuşşeytan, or “Party of Satan.” When the leaders of the Turkish Hezbollah established a political party in 2012, they chose the name Hüda Par — “Party of God” in Turkish.

 

Turkey’s history is full of atrocities carried out by those who were convinced God was on their side. In both the 1915 mass killing of Armenians and the 1979 pogrom against members of the minority Alevi faith, the perpetrators are on record saying they were doing God’s work.

 

That unfortunate tradition continues to this day. Die-hard AKP supporters have claimed that Erdoğan is the messenger of God, and have even greeted him in burial shrouds to show they are ready to kill and die for him.

 

In such an atmosphere, a return to the carnage of the 1990s seems a distinct possibility. It is a disturbing prospect: in one infamous episode during that decade, 35 people — mostly Alevi intellectuals — were murdered in the city of Sivas for supporting Salman Rushdie’s ‘blasphemous’ literature. During the same period, devout Hezbollah militants would throw their victims into acid wells, or butcher them with cleavers.

 

Now, in claiming God to be on their side, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are not only tarnishing the image of the religion they claim to cherish, but potentially legitimizing a new wave of violence. Recently a popular social-media supporter of the AKP posted a photo of a meat cleaver and praised “the good old 1990s.” He was later rewarded with Erdoğan’s attendance at his wedding.

 

Thankfully, most Turkish citizens are wiser than both the country’s leaders and their most sycophantic followers. As a Kurd from the city of Diyarbakır, whose grandfather admitted to having killed seven Armenians in 1915 to “guarantee” himself a place in paradise, told me: “My relatives used to tell me that upon killing the seventh Armenian my grandpa’s hands turned green as a sign of the promise of paradise. If you ask me, he went straight to hell.”

 

Turkey’s president and prime minister would do well to follow the example of Abraham Lincoln. When asked during the carnage of the Civil War whether he believed God was on the Union’s side, he replied simply, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

 

Unless Turkey’s Islamist leaders can find their own spirit of Lincoln, they may reawaken the worst demons of the past, sparking a period of internecine conflict that even God may be unable to stop.

 

Aykan Erdemir is an Ankara-based nonresident fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former member of the Turkish parliament. He tweets @aykan_erdemir

Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Ahmet Davutoğlu gestures during a press conference at the party headquarters in Ankara on 17 August 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)

My relatives used to tell me that upon killing the seventh Armenian my grandpa’s hands turned green as a sign of the promise of paradise. If you ask me, he went straight to hell.”

  • aliveli

    Aykan, you forgot to mention the atrocities of your secular CHP. Who is responsible from the Dersim massacre? Let me write on your behalf. CHP government of the time.

    August 29, 2015