Turkey’s main opposition party Republican People’s Party’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been making an official visit to Washington. Kılıçdaroğlu kicked off his program on Saturday.
Kılıçdaroğlu, accompanied by the party’s deputy chairs – Faruk Loğoğlu, Umut Oran, Şafak Pavey, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Faik Öztrak - and a number of lawmakers as well as several Turkish journalists, was welcomed with a dinner given in his honor by the Turkish Embassy in Washington on Saturday (30th of November) by Turkish ambassador to USA, Namık Tan, as part of his first visit to the USA as the chairman of RPP. Kılıçdaroğlu later attended on Sunday (1st of December) the reception organized by his party’s representative office in Washington. He also came together with Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and Turkish-American Scientists and Scholars Association (TASSA) officials on the same day. Kılıçdaroğlu’s program will cover a meeting with the Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council and a Special Assistant to President Obama, Karen Donfried at White House, talks with officials from the Department of State, the Pentagon and Congress, two speeches he’ll be given at the Brookings Institute and Johns Hopkins School of International Studies (SAIS) and a press conference prior to his departure for Turkey.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s visit to Washington is very symbolic in certain ways. First of all, as Yetkin points out, this program is the first visit of a RPP leader to the U.S. in 37 years. The previous visit was the one that was made by RPP leader Bülent Ecevit in 1976, where he had survived an assassination attempt by a Greek Cypriot after Turkish Armed Forces’ intervention into Cyprus in 1974. Thus, this late visit that came after 37 years could be analyzed as the beginning of a new era between RPP and the U.S. and even a rediscovery on both sides according to Yetkin. “The new RPP is a party that gives importance to young people and women. It is a party that tries to read the world a bit better”, Kılıçdaroğlu said. “You will see in the coming days. There will be a stronger RPP in America”, he added.
Secondly, after long years for the first time RPP’s leader displays an assertive position for leading the country, a situation that gives hope to millions of secular-oriented people in Turkey because of rising fears against Islamist authoritarianism in the country in recent years. “Our main objective for the U.S. trip is to share our expectations, views, visions and our ideas over internal, external and economic policies with the Americans as the party which will come to power at the next general elections”, RPP Deputy Chair Faruk Loğoğlu said in an assertive way.
Thirdly, this visit verifies the visible shift in party’s foreign policy rhetoric after Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership based on his insistence with stronger links with the Western world. RPP’s head of Brussels office, Kader Sevinç previously wrote the importance of redeveloping Transatlantic Partnership and RPP’s willingness to take part in this process. The “axis shift” discussions that took place during Justice and Development Party (JDP) era, especially because of diplomatic crises with Israel, created a negative image of Turkey in the eyes of American decision-makers. Thus, Kılıçdaroğlu’s visit is more than just a “petty politics” move and it represents Turkish State’s -at least some elements within the state- insistence to become a part of Western world.
Fourthly, the visit takes place after a hot summer of protests in Turkey (Gezi Park events) which clearly showed that the so-called “model partnership” between two countries could not continue with rising authoritarianism in the Turkey. The U.S. perspective on “Turkish model”, a special focus on Turkey as an example of a modern and moderate Muslim state that has an efficiently working democracy, cannot be carried on with a strongly polarized society and instable country. Thus, the visit symbolizes RPP’s candidacy for a better model in order to help Muslim societies to embrace democracy and pro-Western secularism.
Yetkin correctly concludes that RPP is rediscovering America, while the U.S. is also rediscovering the opposition in Turkey on behalf of RPP, perhaps thanks to the Gezi protests, which showed that Turkish society is not monolithic and Islamic authoritarianism will not bring peace and stability to Turkish society.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
Head of the department of Political Science and Public Administration
Girne American University (GAU)