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Turkish President Meets Opposition After Failed Coup

  • Dorian Jones

Demonstrators at Taksim Square wave flags bearing the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revered as founder of the modern Turkish Republic, July 24, 2016. Many are calling for preservation of the secular state established by Ataturk nearly a century ago. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Demonstrators at Taksim Square wave flags bearing the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revered as founder of the modern Turkish Republic, July 24, 2016. Many are calling for preservation of the secular state established by Ataturk nearly a century ago. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

In a move seen as intended to ease political tensions, Turkey's president met with the political opposition Monday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, and Kemal Kilicdarolgu, the head of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. The country's main pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, was excluded.

The nearly three-hour gathering comes amid growing concerns over the crackdown since the July 15 coup attempt.

Semih Idiz, a columnist for Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, says that with all the opposition parties opposing the coup, the president was obliged to hold the meeting. However, he says, a lot of work needs to be done to build a political consensus to overcome the crisis.

"We are in Turkey, in a situation where nerves are on edge and [in] the lead up to this coup we witnessed very many harsh exchanges between the ruling elite and the opposition,” Idiz said. “And there are a lot of hurdles that have to be overcome for this reconciliation to be meaningful."

FILE - Pro-government demonstrators hold a giant Turkish national flag during a march towards the Asian side of the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, July 21, 2016.

FILE - Pro-government demonstrators hold a giant Turkish national flag during a march towards the Asian side of the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, July 21, 2016.

In a short statement, the CHP described the meeting as positive.

On Sunday, the CHP held a major rally in Istanbul's Taksim Square in support of democracy and against the coup attempt. In a rare crossing of Turkey's deep political divide, prominent members of the AKP attended.

Soli Ozel, an international relations expert at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, says the symbolism of Monday's meeting is an important step toward easing tensions.

"Mr. Erdogan is seen as a polarizing figure, so when he takes conciliatory steps, this resonates far more than anybody else's steps,” Ozel said. “In that sense, this move — this meeting, the photos, the pictures that we are going to see — is going to be immensely important for a process of reconciliation, for a process of lowering the tensions in the country."

Protecting rights seen as key

But tensions remain high amid fears the ongoing crackdown is extending beyond those involved in the coup. Turkey is currently under emergency rule, and more than 60,000 people have been arrested or suspended from work.

FILE - Soldiers suspected of being involved in the coup attempt are escorted by policemen as they arrive at a courthouse in the resort town of Marmaris, Turkey, July 17, 2016.

FILE - Soldiers suspected of being involved in the coup attempt are escorted by policemen as they arrive at a courthouse in the resort town of Marmaris, Turkey, July 17, 2016.

Human rights group Amnesty International alleges some of those detained have been ill-treated and tortured.

Opposition leader Kilicdarolgu on Sunday condemned the ill treatment of those detained, and called for the rule of law to be applied.

Columnist Idiz says building a political consensus is key to protecting rights and allaying concerns that the president is using the aftermath of the coup to pursue his own political agenda.

"If [Erdogan] appears to be using this and going for his own ambitions, to fulfill his own ambitions, ... that is going to increase instability in Turkey and it might even increase sympathy in some quarters for those who attempted this coup,” Idiz said. “Now that is unthinkable at this stage, of course, but it all depends on how Erdogan plays this from now on."

Concerns over the crackdown were heightened further Monday, when arrest warrants were issued for 42 journalists, including Nazli Ilicak, one of the country's most prominent newspaper columnists.

Observers warn that as the scope of arrests appear to be broadening, time could be running out for building a cross-party consensus, threatening further turmoil.

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