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Cablegate: Rumblings in Ultra-Nationalist Mhp

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ANKARA 004857

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2025
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINS TU
SUBJECT: RUMBLINGS IN ULTRA-NATIONALIST MHP

REF: A. ANKARA 1730
B. 2004 ANKARA 7211
C. ANKARA 1774
D. ANKARA 0501

Classified By: POLCOUNS John Kunstadter; E.O. 12958, reasons
1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) Summary. Although the current Turkish political
environment should provide right-nationalist MHP with an
excellent opportunity to challenge ruling AKP, MHP has failed
to gain much traction. MHP leadership,s failure has
contributed to a growing dissident movement within the party.
The core problem, however, is that MHP's ideology is rooted
in the fear of the dissolution of the Turkish state-nation
and it is unable to address the challenges of globalization
and economic development. End Summary.

2. (C) The failures and missteps of AKP over the past several
months (REFS A and B); the widespread anxiety regarding the
future of the Turkish economy; the increase in PKK-related
violence; and the anti-American and anti-EU tone in the media
have stimulated the latest nationalist backlash. Thus the
current political environment provides an excellent
opportunity for ultra-nationalist National Action Party (MHP)
to mount a challenge against ruling Justice and Development
Party (AKP) (REF C).


-------------------------------
IS SUPPORT FOR MHP ON THE RISE?
-------------------------------

3. (C) Many political commentators and Embassy contacts
assert that support for MHP is on the rise. MHP Vice
Chairman Faruk Bal asserted to POLOFF that party functions
are well attended and party leaders are well received when
they deliver speeches to audiences around the country. On
August 7, MHP held its 16th annual campout and party rally at
Erciyes Mountain in Kayseri. Turkish newspapers reported
that approximately 500,000 people attended the rally.

4. (C) There is substantial evidence, however, that MHP,s
popularity is not on the rise. MHP deserves credit for
hosting a rally with 500,000 attendees, but this is roughly
the same number as have attended MHP,s Erciyes Mountain
rallies in previous years. ANAR pollster Ibrahim Uslu,
moreover, recently told POLOFF that his polls indicate that
MHP is still below the 10 percent threshold for
representation in parliament. Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the
ARI movement told POLOFFs that his liberal-nonpartisan
organization,s recent surveys indicated that MHP is polling
only around 6 percent. A recent TNS/PIAR poll published in
Radikal newspaper also placed MHP,s support at around 6
percent. MHP member and longtime Embassy contact Riza
Muftuoglu also believes that MHP remains below the 10 percent
threshold and he blames this on the failure of the current
party leadership.


-------------------------
POWER STRUGGLE WITHIN MHP
-------------------------

5. (C) Party members outside the central administration are
frustrated with party chairman Devlet Bahceli and the
leadership,s inability to mount a successful challenge
against AKP. There are also lingering irritations over the
leadership,s decision to join the DSP-led coalition
government from 1999-2002. By joining that coalition
government, MHP shared the blame for the 2000 and 2001
economic crises and was maneuvered into endorsing policy
positions that had been anathema to MHP,s grassroots, e.g.
joining the EU, abolishing the death penalty, supporting a
life sentence instead of execution for PKK terrorist leader
Abdullah Occalan, and lifting legal restrictions on the
Kurdish language. Muftuoglu told POLOFFs that MHP should
never have joined the DSP-led government, but even after
joining they should have left the government during the 2001
economic crisis or in the summer of 2002 before the
elections.

6. (C) Party dissidents led by former minister Namik Kemal
Zeybek and former party vice chairman Ramiz Ongun have
accumulated at least 265 signatures calling for an
extraordinary party convention, more than the 238 signatures
required. (Comment. Some party dissidents claim that they
have collected over 550 signatures. End Comment.) The party
administration is trying to resist the call for an early
convention by claiming that some of the signers have changed
their minds since signing the petition, but a low-level
Turkish court ruled that MHP must hold a convention. Whether
or not MHP will be forced to hold a party convention this
year is still unclear.
7. (C) Bahceli has responded to these internal threats by
having the party make a propaganda film entitled "Orange
Revolution, Purple Violets" in which he accuses internal and
external opponents of the party as being part of a global
plot designed to weaken the Republic of Turkey. (Comment.
Bahceli's preference for blaming outsiders is similar to the
approach of CHP leader Baykal. Earlier this year, Baykal
responded to internal challenges to his party leadership by
accusing the USG being behind efforts to replace him (REF D).
End Comment.) The film also accuses the US and EU of
working together to expand their global power by fomenting
recent revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and other countries.


-----------------------------------
THE FAILURE OF NATIONALIST IDEOLOGY
-----------------------------------

8. (C) There is a widespread recognition in the party that
nationalism has failed to adapt to globalization and Turkish
economic realities, but leading MHP theorists are unable to
develop a detailed explanation of how Turkish nationalism
should address the problems of globalization and economic
development.

9. (C) Dr. Umit Ozdag is a thuggish nationalist intellectual,
foreign policy theorist, and one of the individuals trying to
replace Bahceli as chairman of MHP. Ozdag recently stepped
down as president of the Eurasian Strategic Research Center
(ASAM) so he could devote more time to political activity: he
told POLOFFS that he delivered over 100 speeches around the
country in the past year. The pistol-packing Ozdag is
clever, but he is not a rigorous thinker and he wraps himself
in conspiracy theories. Intense and wily, he is utterly
lacking in charm or charisma.

10. (C) Ozdag has written a book calling for a renewal of
Turkish nationalism, but the thin 100 page opus minimus is
heavy on rhetoric and light on policy specifics. He wants
Turkey to be a wealthy and powerful country and he recognizes
that this requires Turkey to embrace globalization, but he is
unsure how to proceed. He is skilled at recognizing the
problems and at making nationalistic arguments in favor of
addressing the problems, but he is unable to develop detailed
or rational policy proposals that would address the host of
socioeconomic issues facing Turkey. (Comment. In this
regard he is no different from most Turkish intellectuals on
the social democratic left and the center-right. End
Comment.)

11. (C) His political ideas are a logically inconsistent
combination of anti-European conspiracy theories, nationalist
sentiments, statist solutions, and grudging recognition of
the realities of globalization and American power. Ozdag,
for example, calls for an end to Turkey's EU membership bid
and a termination of Turkey's Customs Union with the EU, but
he also wants Turkey to sign a free trade agreement with the
EU. (Comment. Unlike the Customs Union, a free trade
agreement would allow Turkey and the EU to set different
tariffs for non-EU countries. End Comment.) He states that
Turkey should end its relationship with the IMF and that this
step should be preceded by raising the domestic savings rate
so that IMF loans are not needed, but he is unable to explain
how the country could accomplish this goal. He argues that
Turkish agriculture needs to be modernized and he recognizes
that this would require the consolidation of landholdings and
cause social disruptions, but he is unable to propose any
policies to address these challenges, other than recommending
that new apartment buildings be built in smaller towns and
cities. Ozdag also calls for state-directed economic
investment in "strategic sectors" and state-encouraged
research into "high technology", but he is unable to
elaborate on how this should be done.

12. (C) Ozdag also argues in his book -- and in
conversations with POLOFFs -- that the Europeans are trying
to create a "Turkish Milosevich," i.e. someone who will lead
Turkey into an ethno-religious civil war that will result in
the dismemberment of the country. Ozdag says that Turkey
must resist this; but given the relish with which he
discusses this scenario, we suspect he harbors dark fantasies
of being Turkey's nationalist leader during a time of
ethno-religious civil war.
13. (C) Dr. Riza Ayhan is a professor of international trade
law at Gazi University in Ankara and another candidate to
replace Bahceli. In manner and demeanor he is the exact
opposite of Ozdag: Ayhan is very smooth and self confident
with a patrician (if not imperial) style. Ayhan told POLOFF
that nationalism must adapt to the realities of
globalization, but he was unable to elaborate on what he
meant by this phrase. As with Ozdag, Ayhan recognizes many
of the problems facing Turkey and Turkish nationalism, but he
is unable to come up with more than vague policy
recommendations.

14. (C) Ayhan initially told POLOFFs that he was not looking
to replace Bahceli as leader of MHP, but later admitted ---
with an air of noblesse oblige --- that other nationalists
may put him in a position where he is forced to challenge the
party leader. When POLOFF asked him to describe Turkish
nationalism, Ayhan started by stating what it was not, e.g.
not racist, not undemocratic, not anti-American, and not
fascist. (Comment. This is a mantra that POLOFFs have heard
repeatedly during their meetings with MHP party members. End
Comment.) Ayhan was very critical of the EU, but he avoided
--- at least in initial conversations with POLOFFs --- any
conspiracy theories and, moreover, he expressed the hope that
Turkey would join the EU in time for the 100th birthday of
the Republic (i.e. 2023).

15. (C) Sevket Bulent Yahnici is considered by many Turkish
observers to be another leading MHP intellectual. Yahnici is
a former MHP MP from Ankara, but he is not a candidate to
replace Bahceli. Yahnici is slovenly and disorganized. He
met POLOFFs in his office/apartment which was littered with
books and papers. He sat in a large chair next to a nargile
(Turkish water pipe) with ashes on the floor. He started the
conversation by trying clumsily to bait POLOFF with
anti-Christian rhetoric. He then complained about rural
migration to Ankara and lamented that he was one of the few
Ankara-born MP to represent the province in the last
parliament. (Note. He claimed that most of Ankara's
twenty-nine MPs were born elsewhere. End Note.)

16. (C) This was followed by a long rant about the Iraq war
in which Yahnici blamed ethnically Kurdish MPs for voting
against the failed 1 March 2003 resolution authorizing the
deployment of U.S. forces into Iraq via Turkey because the
Kurdish MPs wanted to sabotage US-Turkish relations and
provide a catalyst for the creation of an independent
Kurdistan in northern Iraq. He then eagerly launched into
another long rant about the threats the EU reforms pose to
the unity and survival of the Republic of Turkey. Yahnici
was completely unable to provide POLOFF with a definition of
Turkish nationalism, other than to repeat the standard MHP
mantra that nationalism isn't racist, fascist, etc. Yahnici
agreed with other nationalists that economic issues and
globalization are serious challenges, but he was unable to
explain how nationalism relates to these topics. Near the
end of the conversation, Yahnici blamed the MHP leadership
for failing to develop and adequately explain the nationalist
ideology.


--------------------------------------------- --
TURKISH NATIONALISM ROOTED IN FEAR AND PARANOIA
--------------------------------------------- --

17. (C) Ultimately, MHP's ideology is rooted in fear and
paranoia. Turkish nationalists inside and outside of MHP
have told POLOFFs that they believe that the Turkish
nation-state formation process is incomplete and that
enhanced democratic and minority rights could result in the
dismemberment of the country. Many nationalists, moreover,
do not trust the EU or the U.S. Some believe that the West
European countries have deviously designed the EU membership
reforms in a way that would weaken the Turkish state/military
and result in the formation of an independent Kurdistan in
southeastern Turkey. They also choose to believe --- as do
many Turks --- that the USG orchestrated the rise of the AKP,
supports the PKK terrorist organization, and is bent on a
policy of world domination. In fact, when Turkish
nationalists tell POLOFFs that Turkey and the U.S. need to
form a strong alliance it is because they want Turkey to be
on the side of the global hegemon, not because they share
specific U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives.

18. (C) Comment. As Turkey moves down the EU road --- and
especially once the EU requires reforms that will result in
short-term economic pain --- the MHP will have many
opportunities to build a powerful political movement
galvanized around Turkish fear, paranoia, and opposition to
the EU. MHP's leadership, however, has been unable so far to
capitalize on this opportunity because it is mired in the
policy mistakes of the DSP-led coalition government. If a
new leadership is able to gain control of the party; overcome
the mistakes of the past; reform the party's ideology so that
it can address the challenges of economic modernization and
globalization in a persuasive manner; attract a large number
of ideologically motivated young people to the party; and
build a loyal cadre of hardworking grassroots activists, then
MHP will be in a position to challenge AKP. The degree to
which this revitalized MHP will also contribute to
anti-Americanism will be directly linked to how clearly
nationalists perceive the U.S. to be on Turkey's side in the
fight against the PKK in northern Iraq. End Comment.
MCELDOWNEY

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