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TematicheMedio Oriente e Nord AfricaSinan Oğan is Erdogan’s new instrument and likely hiss...

Sinan Oğan is Erdogan’s new instrument and likely hiss guarantee of victory. Who is behind him?

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On May 14th, the lower electoral impact of the Alliance of the Nation and that of the Alliance for Work and Freedom, together with the Syrian and the Kurdish issues, let the People’s Alliance secure 49.5% of the votes. Today, Türkiye veers decisively to the right: S. Oğan guaranteed his endorsement to the coalition led by President Erdoğan and D. Bahçeli. The latter is an historical figure of the Turkish far right, an heir of Necmettin Erbakan, whose President Erdoğan is also in some way an heir. That the right would be the way out for the Turkish government was already clear two years ago, with the issue of the 103 admirals.

The renaissance of the left was yet to come, together with the unprecedented alliance between CHP and the Kurdish factions allowed by the weakness of both sides: the absence of S. Demirtaş, that of E. İmamoğlu and the vanishing appeal of the IYI Party of M. Akşener in the face of the disruptive strength of her former party colleague S. Oğan. Akşener had been deeply disappointed by the choice of Kılıçdaroğlu as the leader of the alliance, and that seems to be with a good reason: she perceived how the lack of renewal and that of new personalities deeply affected a movement that risked being stale and unable to evolve. She was probably right.

On the morning of May the 15th, Oğan had offered his support to anyone who would oppose the Kurdish cause and put an end to the issue of the Syrian refugees: but already on May the 10th, 2023 the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Iran had met on the sidelines of the quadripartite meeting in order to discuss the voluntary and safe return of Syrians now hosted in Turkey. Needless to say, these millions of Syrians have been of primary importance for the Turkish Presidency, which – by promoting their transformation into Turkish citizens – intended to enlarge a more Sunni electoral base and  increase Türkiye’s specific weight in Syrian life.

Once the exodus of Syrians has been guaranteed, thanks to Syria’s return to the Arab League and the settlement of many inconvenient dossiers with Iran, President Erdoğan can fulfill his promise to release the Syrians. Sinan Oğan surely knew about the May the 10th meeting. Perhaps he already knew where he would direct his votes? 

Sinan Oğan belongs to the Azerbaijani Turkish minority, as brilliantly explained on these pages by Sabrina Sergi in Turkey, elections: Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu chasing the votes of nationalist Sinan Oğan for the second round – Geopolitica.info , and  in the Republic of Azerbaijan he took many professional and personal steps. A typical Oğuz in his appearance, his speeches echo a nationalist narrative that may actually attract voters from both sides.

But the transformations that the Kemalist party has experienced in Türkiye in the last 12 years have put everything into question: the CHP had not been able to support the Kurdish movements when it was the case and it would be possible to achieve (during and after the presidency of T.  Özal, in the late 80s), and therefore it had to wait a very long time to approach the autonomist instances. The silent coup of 1997 then slowed everything down.  The reforms that followed the 2011 referendum profoundly changed the CHP, which largely imitated the AKP and lost much of its own identity.

The AKP, as an Islamist movement, is not prejudicially opposed to ethnic differences (instead, it has taken many steps forward the recognition of the Kurdish identity), but the alliance with the MHP has placed them in the need to counter the autonomist discourse and move further and further to the right. Mr. Bahçeli, a very experienced politician who has been serving as the head of the MHP for a very long time, seems to be the éminence grise of the People’s Alliance.

And perhaps, just to be a conspiracionist, one could see his presence behind the birth of a personality like that of Sinan Oğan. He appeared at the Kılıçdaroğlu court on April 12, for a 25-minute talk. Oğan asked for nothing more than a “democratic electoral period” (“demokratik bir seçim dönemi”): in fact what differentiated him from the MHP (from which Oğan had been expelled more than once) was precisely  the opposition to presidentialism, which he considered undemocratic: the same position taken by M. Akşener, another far-right figure now imprisoned in the Kılıçdaroğlu alliance. So, who is S. Oğan, the leader of that small alliance whose ingenious name, Ata İttifakı, sounds so attractive to all nationalistic kemalists? Just a late MHP spinoff, as M. Ince is of the CHP, A. Davutoglu and A. Babacan are of the AKP, or a person who was generated by the MHP for a very brilliant electoral operation?

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