The ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) recently increasing use of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, has sparked a debate but experts see it as an attempt to bridge social divides and end polarization on the part of the government.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking on Nov. 10, the 79th anniversary of the death of Atatürk, affirmed the eternal respect and gratitude the Turkish public continues to hold for him, arguing that the country's founder could not be in the monopoly of a single party.
Several figures from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which was founded by Atatürk in 1923 and for the most part the only party allowed until 1948, have criticized the AK Party's references to Atatürk as populism in preparation for the 2019 local, parliamentary and presidential elections.
Government figures, on the other hand, have defended their statements by arguing that the legacy of Atatürk belongs to the entire nation, not to a small political clique.
Nebi Miş, an academic from Sakarya University, said it was wrong to argue that Erdoğan's remarks on Nov. 10 were hardly the first time he mentioned Atatürk.
"President Erdoğan said Atatürkism should no longer be exploited to divide the nation. Parties should not use Atatürkism for political purposes. The AK Party basically calls for a normalization process," he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, speaking at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting Tuesday, also argued that Atatürk was a common value that united the country.
"Separating the society over this issue is not Atatürkism, let alone patriotism. We have seen this plot before, now it is being repeated," he added.
Tanju Tosun, an expert on CHP from Ege University in İzmir, said the recent AK Party emphasis on Atatürk was in line with the party's own ideology.
Tosun said the AK Party has never turned its back on Atatürk's principles, adding, "When the AK Party's sociological structure is examined it can be seen that there is a substantial electorate who has centrist tendencies and favors the principles of Atatürk."
The CHP criticism was aimed more at drawing support from the AK Party's centrist voters, he said, additionally noting that any party with any desire to become the government had to appeal to the centrist tendencies of the majority.
Miş, however, said the AK Party's main aim by emphasizing its attachment to Atatürk was to foster common national purpose among the public against potential damaging political designs as 2019 approaches.
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