The Republican People's Party (CHP) is Turkey's oldest party, and has been claiming to represent the center-left affiliations of society for quite a long time now. However, recent statements by party authorities on the refugee policy suggest that their position on the political spectrum is changing and gradually gaining a far-right feel. On Tuesday, the leader of the party Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu held his weekly group meeting in Parliament, where he spoke on various topics, from the minimum wage to condolences on the recent deaths of important political figures and artists. However, at one point, a sentence emerged from Kılıçdaroğlu's mouth, signaling a return to his favorite topic.
"They were supposed to go within 24 hours," Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to the early days of Syrian refugees in the country, unable to hide his discontent. "We still do not know what to do with them," he continued.
This is not the first time that the CHP leader has openly revealed his true feelings on the millions of Syrians taking refuge in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. As a matter of fact, these latest statements are probably the least harsh when compared to his previous statements.
Back in May 2018, before the June 24 elections, Kılıçdaroğlu was at his peak when expressing annoyance over the Syrian refugees. During a speech in southern Mersin province he criticized the rights given to Syrians.
"There are places [in Turkey] where our own citizens [are] second class [citizens]," he said, implying that Syrians have been enjoying a life in Turkey without paying any taxes and are given priority in public spaces, especially in hospitals. Following these claims, which he did not back up, Kılıçdaroğlu cried: "Syrians are people too! But, they should go to their own country!"
These words alone are important signifiers on the attitude of the CHP toward refugees. The 2015 election manifesto of the party proves that the party has not been always like this. In the manifesto, CHP lists 40 articles for Syria, giving a large space for Syrian refugees, including their well-being. The manifesto included many aspects on the conditions of Syrian refugees, from their education to housing, rent prices to health. However, in 2018, we see that this detailed chapter on refugees has changed to only seven articles and is not as comprehensive as its 2015 version.
The reason behind this change may be that the CHP, which had a sensible attitude to the refugee problem, may not have mirrored what the party's voter base wanted. To attract their own voter base, who are not all in favor of the Syrians, it was politically more logical for the CHP to take a hostile stance, rather than a welcoming one when it came to the refugees.
The CHP's voter base is known to be a more secular, elite segment of society - predominately middle-class, white-collar people. These people live in parts of Turkey that are removed from Syrians, meaning that their day-to-day interactions with refugees are minimal. So, if they do not have to face them often, why does this hostility by CHP voters exist?
Speaking to Hürriyet daily in Oct. 2018 regarding her "1,003 integration project", Şebnem Köser expounded on the issue.
"It is very interesting to see in our study that most of the people who say that 'Syrians should go back their homes,' are the ones who actually did not ever come across Syrians or have ad minimum interaction [with them]," Köser said. This minimum interaction with Syrians has allowed CHP voters to easily cling to false and unjust rumors regarding the refugee community, eventually leading to hostility. The CHP leader is aware of this perspective within his party's voter base and does not hesitate to turn it into political gain; thus the constant rhetoric in his speeches.
"While Syrians have become first class citizens, the nut producers of the Black Sea region have become second class citizens. You will call them to account for it. Not me, you'll call them to account for it," Kılıçdaroğlu said during a rally in the Black Sea region's Giresun province, a speech designed to incite people against the Syrians and fuel xenophobia.
It is unfortunate for the CHP, which once tried to distance itself from its elitist base in a bid to create closer ties with the average person, to have to take such a harsh stance on refugees as a result of political gain, returning to its elitist roots, but this time as a far-right party.