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Opinion

Opinion: Turkey's history is one of division

Following the New Year's Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Turks to unite. But it's far too late for that, write's DW's Daniel Heinrich.

The Reina nightclub in Istanbul's Ortakoy district is a hotspot for the rich and beautiful. The venue on the Bosporus is known for the lines of black limos at its entrance, inflated cover prices and the plunging necklines of its female patrons. It stands pretty much in direct contrast with the ideal of a good Turkish-Muslim lifestyle as propagated by the religious-conservative governing party, the AKP, and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

More divided than ever before

During the attack at Reina on New Year's Eve, 39 people lost their lives. After the tragedy, the opposition in particular speculated that an Islamist extremist attacker had felt encouraged to kill people during the Christmas and New Year's holiday season. In his first speech following the attack, Erdogan made a point of calling on Turks to unite in the face of terror.

Unity in Turkey? The very suggestion almost verges on the comical. If you think about Turkey currently, there are many different groups: Sunnis, Alawites, Kurds, Erdogan fans, Erdogan haters, the religious, the secular. These groups are certainly many things, but unified? Definitely not.

Porträt Daniel Heinrich (DW/M. Müler)

DW's Daniel Heinrich

This is not solely the fault of Erdogan or the AKP; it's the fault of the country's entire political class. The dissension that is so rife in the republic goes back to its founding, a sort of congenital defect in the Turkish state. Back then, in the 1920s, founding father Kemal Ataturk, with the help of the military and a small urban elite, imposed a new way of life on the mainly rural, conservative population. Eventually, political Islam would emerge from the conservative sector of society in protest against Ataturk's Western leanings. The most recent manifestation: The election victory of the AKP at the end of 2002.

Fight for the 'right' way of life

Fifteen years later, it's clear: Erdogan's followers are just as willing as the Kemalists to disregard the "other" side of society. And there are also astounding similarities in the way they passionately try to impose the "right" way of life on the entire population.

Erdogan is now saying that he will not allow Turkey to become polarized. But given Turkey's history, and especially more recent events, that sounds more distanced from reality than ever.

Last year's coup attempt, the resulting mass wave of arrests in which the followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen were particularly targeted, the reignited conflict with the Kurds that has claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the attacks by the so-called "Islamic State" and Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK - these have all ensured that unity for Turkey is now more remote than it has ever been in its almost 100-year history.

If there is no concrete action to support Erdogan's appeal to bridge the divide, then the president's words will remain what they are currently: Empty words from the mouth of a politician.

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