Böke and Cihaner call for a return to universal left values
Before the CHP congress, a manifesto appeared bearing the signatures of Selin Sayek Böke and İlhan Cihaner. I spoke to Böke and Cihaner about the manifesto that promotes the reconstruction of the CHP on universal left values and Atatürk’s republican values.
A few days before the CHP congress, a manifesto appeared bearing the signatures of two members of parliament, Selin Sayek Böke and İlhan Cihaner. This was an unexpected move. They subjected headquarters to justified but harsh criticism and submitted proposals encompassing serious and fundamental policies over Turkey’s and the CHP’s future. It did not find serious reflection at the congress. But, it has been the focus of interest among the party base. I interviewed Selin Sayek Böke and İlhan Cihaner on the eve of the congress. I have seen fit to publish it now things have settled down with the congress over.
- You made an unexpected move. On the eve of the congress, nobody within the CHP was expecting a manifesto critical of headquarters’ policies. It came as a surprise. So, I’ll ask: Are you just two people? I mean Selin Sayek Böke and İlhan Cihaner.
İLHAN CİHANER: Of course we aren’t just two people. For one thing, we have had discussions and talks along this trajectory with a large number of our MP colleagues. Reading the world, reading Turkey and reading the party, the CHP. I mean, there aren’t just two of us.
SELİN SAYEK BÖKE: There is one point I want to add because it’s important to me. I want to say that I am surprised at that there being surprise over this move of ours.
S.S.B: Because we proclaimed this move of ours with the signatures of two MPs, but we were actually acting as the voice for an expectation, a hope, a need that exists in society. I mean, longing and hope are not things that are alien to us. It is something we saw in the will for “no.” Despite all the intimidation, a “no” vote in excess of 50% emerged with the will of society. Likewise with the Justice March. It was a process over which social unease swelled up over the imposition of an illegitimate result. As such, our move was not at all surprising. Perhaps it is necessary to conceive of this move as the voice within the party of the reaction and need that has been manifesting itself in society since Gezi. So, it is not surprising for us and I don’t think others should be surprised.
- No, it was still surprising. It was surprising because a move was not expected from the CHP ranks, from within the CHP. This was the prevailing perception.
S.S.B: In that case, let’s say that one needed to come from the CHP.
- OK, we have worked out that it is not just the two of you. But, you both appeared before the public. Are you a “duo”?
S.S.B: No, we are the CHP.
İ.C: We are not a duo but a dozen, a score. We are many; many.
- There was the warning you raised in your manifesto that “the congress must not be reduced to a change of general chair and a race over personal solidarity and number of delegates”
İ.C: This was precisely one of our goals. Let this not happen, let it not happen like this.
CHANGE STARTED AT THIS CONGRESS
S.S.B: Let me put it like this. This was probably precisely the most basic departure point of the call we have made and the manifesto we have drawn up. Never mind the CHP, we came out urging for Turkey to transform and change. Turkey is plagued by the conducting of political debate through individuals. We have a massive objection to 2019. This situation also applies to the CHP’s own internal elections. Congresses should basically be arenas at which political issues are spoken about and political errors are discussed. They are not arenas at which general chair candidates are discussed by name. We are experiencing first-hand the way this congress has also changed thanks to this manifesto.
- Elaborate on that a bit. What are you getting at?
S.S.B: I mean this political debate opened up along with the congress. The party is debating this and this started with our manifesto.
- Is it being debated you hope, or being debated?
S.S.B: No, no, it’s being debated. We are experiencing this, we are on this inside.
İ.C: There is a further point. If this manifesto had been brought out much earlier, headquarters would not, with the government making so many arrests on the pretext of Afrin and using the Afrin operation as a domestic political argument, have said all at once, “We’re behind the government and we support the operation.”
- You draw attention in your manifesto to the process for determining the candidate in the presidential election, the mindset that supports motions for military action, the thinking during the process in which immunities were lifted, the mindset towards the Yenikapı rally and the lack of reaction faced with the illegitimate result on the night of the 16 April referendum. This is criticism targeting CHP headquarters.
İ.C: Yes. Headquarters, along with anybody who was influential in those decisions, need to take what’s coming to them.
- Who are they?
İ.C: There are advisors and there are those on the outside who chip in ideas. We have raised this issue in party organs. This is also what compelled our proclamation. No such move would have been needed in an organisation in which things were running smoothly, anyway.
LEGITIMISING THE ILLEGITIMATE
- You stress in your manifesto the need not to shelter behind such excuses as “conservative sensitivities, security, nationalness and the prevailing situation.” From your standpoint, is the party’s support for the Afrin operation an example of this?
S.S.B: One hundred per cent so. Look, there are two important points in this proclamation. CHP management, rather than defending political values that are innate and fundamental to it, reads events through a window that the AKP needs to stay in power and imposes as if it were the will of society as a whole. What we speak of in this proclamation is a future constructed on universal left values and Atatürk’s republican values.
- What is included in your proposal for the future?
Among these notions, among these values, peace is included, freedom is included, equality is included and secularism is included. A party that defends these values uncompromisingly will acquire the capability to act as the vanguard for society in this sense. The approach of today’s CHP management is not one that uncompromisingly defends these values but reads events through a window imposed by the AKP and defines a position on this basis. It consequently turns into a vehicle for legitimising the illegitimate.
- Illegitimate. You use this term.
S.S.B: Yes, and we do not apply this just to the state of emergency. The state of emergency is a means. A regime is being imposed on us. An illegitimate regime. Unfortunately, in Turkey the CHP’s current approach to management does not wage policies out of identifying the existence of extraordinary conditions. Since it wages policies as if everything were normal, it turns into a legitimising vehicle. The failure both to identify the extraordinary situation and draw up a road map in accordance with this is a significant shortcoming.
İ.C: You were basically asking about Afrin. This ruling body is getting permission from America, is getting permission from Russia, is negotiating with Iran and is also negotiating clandestinely with the Syrian regime over the Afrin operation. The only party they are not negotiating with is Turkey. This means you are not negotiating with the people whose kids you are sending to die but you get permission from the others. A nationalist front stands against us. We must not surrender to this hubbub and maliciousness. However ...
EXTRAORDINARY OPPOSITION UNDER EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES
- I get it. Well, you recommend deterrent opposition methods such as the active boycott of parliament and withdrawal from parliamentary activities until the state of emergency regime ends and the environment is fostered for fair and trustworthy elections.
S.S.B: You have reached the correct perception. I think this must be discussed before all else. The current failure for this to be discussed in party committees is an issue in its own right, in fact. The obligation is incumbent on the CHP to accept the extraordinary conditions that Turkey is undergoing and organise an extraordinary opposition. And we must begin defining extraordinary opposition by recognising the reality that this is not continuing legislative activity in parliament as if everything were normal. It is sufficient that we display the courage and self-confidence to employ all, absolutely all, democratic and legitimate means. And the starting point for this will be first opening this up for discussion in party committees.
- We journalists are used to a CHP that perceives the Kurdish problem to be a taboo. You have included it by name in your manifesto. So, I will ask what you think about the HDP.
İ.C: The HDP is currently a legal party. There are exceptional advantages to the Kurdish movement being represented in parliament. We are talking about a party that gets around six million votes. This nationalist front has subjected the HDP to blanket criminalisation. You see, the solution process was artificial. A government that was sincere about the solution process would not make fortified police stations, and a Kurdish movement that was promoting a sincere solution process would not dig ditches. The end result was that they reduced to naught all that had been accomplished towards solving Turkey’s Kurdish problem
- What is the importance, the meaning, of the 36th Congress to you?
S.S.B: Look, what we are promoting is Turkey changing. So, we have made this call for a change in policies in the consciousness that a change in the Republican People’s Party will be the first step towards Turkey changing. This congress is an intermediary step for us.
- A what?
S.S.B: An intermediary step. When we published that manifesto, we issued our call saying it was for “the congress and the future.” The congress is most certainly important. But, what is more important is having the decisiveness to take forward the proposition in our call. We have that decisiveness ... İLHAN CİHANER and SELİN SAYEK BÖKE.