Turkish opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu canceled several upcoming campaign events this weekend after a mob of supporters of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked his convoy.
Kilicdaroglu was making a campaign swing through the city of Andiyaman in southeastern Turkey, an area hit hard by February’s devastating earthquakes, when a mob of Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters gathered outside the party’s district headquarters assaulted his convoy. Kilicdaroglu’s vehicle was traveling at the rear of the convoy and was not damaged, but he decided to cancel the rest of his campaign events and return to Ankara to “avoid a bloody conflict that can overshadow the elections.”
Kahta’da Kılıçdaroğlu’nun konvoyundaki araçlara, AKP Kahta İlçe teşkilatı binası önünde bekleyenlerin küfürlü ve tekmeli saldırısının görüntüleri.
İçlerinden biri “Gelin, gelin! A…” diyor. pic.twitter.com/RwI4O84LqN
— Altan Sancar (@altansancarr) April 21, 2023
According to Turkey’s Duvar news service, Kilicdaroglu and his entourage had trouble with members of Erdogan’s party twice on Friday before the assault on his convoy convinced him to leave town:
Kılıçdaroğlu was initially verbally attacked by a man who said the CHP leader does not know Islamic prayers.
After this attack, Kılıçdaroğlu visited Sahabe Safvan Bin Muattal Tomb. During his visit, a mob came outside the tomb and both verbally and physically attacked CHP members and police officers. During the verbal attack, the mob was heard saying, “Don’t come here.”
Kılıçdaroğlu cancels program in Adıyaman after his car convoy attacked https://t.co/NJ4IFPUllO
— Duvar English (@DuvarEnglish) April 21, 2023
Kilicdaroglu is a secularist, a mild-mannered career civil servant who wants to break down the authoritarian and stridently Islamist government created by Erdogan and return to the ways of legendary Turkish reformer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan’s most ardent supporters are further inflamed by Kilicdaroglu’s membership in the Alevi faith, an offbeat branch of Islam that has long been persecuted in Turkey. Some hardcore Sunnis and Shiites regard the Alevis as a false or heretical branch of Islam.
Kilicdaroglu has never hidden his faith, but also rarely mentions it. When he posted a tweet last week reminding voters that he is indeed an Alevi, but also considers himself a faithful Muslim and “not a sinner,” international observers hailed his courage — while Erdogan supporters accused him of trying to drum up sympathy by posturing as a victim.
Kilicdaroglu has been attacked numerous times during his career, including a memorable incident in 2019 where a mob shoved him around, punched him in the face, and discussed either hanging him or burning him alive. He responded by inviting them all to tea.
Turkish government to distribute potatoes and onions to poverty-stricken areas https://t.co/fIJP1njYKE pic.twitter.com/HSikq1oaLP
— Kathimerini English Edition (@ekathimerini) April 13, 2021
Several Turkish parties have come together behind Kilicdaroglu as their best shot at unseating the increasingly dictatorial Erdogan. According to Duvar, the unpleasantness outside AKP headquarters in Andiyaman began when members of the Kurdish-friendly Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — the third-largest party in Turkey and a source of much grassroots enthusiasm for getting rid of Erdogan, but not formally a member of Kilicdaroglu’s six-party alliance to avoid alienating some of its nationalist members — assembled outside and taunted the AKP faithful by chanting “potatoes and onions, goodbye Erdogan!”
The HDP taunt was a reference to Erdogan’s sliding poll numbers thanks to rampant inflation, which has made even simple food staples difficult for Turkish families to afford. Erdogan announced plans last week to “buy the potatoes and onions that remain in storage and distribute it to people in need,” instantly giving his critics a slogan that captures the declining Turkish standard of living.
AKP supporters responded by yelling “Allahu akbar!” back at the HDP crowd and the confrontation soon became violent. Leaving town to avoid further escalation of the conflict was very on-brand for Kilicdaroglu, and might be taken as a sign of either wisdom or weakness by Turkish voters. The BBC last week pointed to signs that his serenity is making a favorable impression on Turks who are weary of Erdogan’s confrontational approach.
On Monday, the Daily Sabah reported HDP might actually join as a seventh party in Kilicdaroglu’s alliance, with three weeks remaining until the election. Until now, HDP leaders have tacitly helped Kilicdaroglu’s campaign by not naming a candidate of their own to run against him, but local party leaders teased last week that they might overtly declare their support for Kilicdaroglu, and he might return the favor by appearing at HDP events.
The pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah was not happy about this development, raging that Kilicdaroglu and his CHP party were “collaborating” with the Kurdish separatists of the PKK and possibly even committing “treason” by courting HDP, which is “known for having links to the PKK terrorist group.”
The latest political polls in Turkey show Erdogan and AKP leading narrowly with 32% of the vote, followed by Kilicdaroglu and CHP with 27.6 percent. HDP holds third place with 10.7 percent support, which would seem to be more than enough to put Kilicdaroglu over the top if HDP voters break for him.
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