Men of State: Devlet Bahçeli and the MHP

Devlet Bahceli

In the aftermath of Turkey’s June 2015 elections, there was great excitement at the showing made by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP). In the months that followed, however, it became clear that the party and its youthful, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, leftwing cohort of legislators would not be setting the tone in Turkish politics: that power seemed to lie instead with its polar opposite, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP).

Headed by the decisively not young, not multi-ethnic, not multi-sectarian Devlet Bahçeli, the MHP has been a factor in Turkish politics for nearly five decades. It has been shutdown; its activists have been jailed; it has been dismissed as irrelevant; it has been dismissed as “fascist.”[1] And yet it persists. Just what is this political organization on whose success or failure the fortunes of other Turkish political parties so often depend?


I. Devlet Bahçeli in Aksaray

II. Tuğrul Türkeş and the Cult of the “Leader”

III. Atila Kaya, Celal Doğan, and the Idealists

IV. Ruhsar Demirel and Moderation

I. Devlet Bahçeli in Aksaray

In May 2015, with just a month left before the general election, Devlet Bahçeli rallied supporters in Aksaray, a small Anatolian province containing around 0.5% of the entire Turkish population. Located near the tourist magnet of Cappadocia but not close enough to pull in many day-trippers, the region remains rural and largely agricultural.[2] Turkish citizens living in areas like Aksaray form the electoral base for Bahçeli’s MHP.

Standing before the crowd, Bahçeli gave his standard greeting, “My valued countrymen, my esteemed friends in the cause (dava) . . .only twenty-seven days remain until the most important election in Turkish history.”[3] He continued:

With great hopes, we brought the Justice and Development Party to power on November 3, 2002. We hoped for a beautiful future for our children: food in our pots, work for our youth . . .We looked for a more honorable foreign policy, a more decisive struggle against terror. Alas, in power, the Justice and Development Party [AKP] mentality did not use the advantage. It did not achieve results that benefitted the people.

Though Bahçeli is not known for his stump-speaking, his rhythms are quite hypnotic. In Aksaray, as in all of his campaign speeches, he framed his argument through an accumulation of contrasting statements:

They are the ones who racked up debt; you are the ones who will foot the bill. They are the ones who frittered away money; you are the ones left sucking on bread. They are the ones who stuffed their pockets; you are the ones left to wander hungry and homeless . . .The choice is yours: Either you can show thanks for this crumb of bread that’s been held up to you, or you can say, “Enough, where is what’s mine,” and rise to your feet. Either you can continue to listen to this story of development and enrichment, or you can say, “Stop,” to this thievery, unfairness, and immorality. Either you can become a partner to this exploitation, injustice, and depravity by closing your eyes, or you can open a new page by starting to march with the Nationalist Action Party.

A month later, many residents of Aksaray heeded his call. The party’s share of the vote rose 12.4% from four years earlier—the AKP’s share dropped by 7.6% and the CHP’s by 5%.

Throughout Turkey this pattern repeated itself. Despite suggestions that liberal CHP supporters had thrown their weight behind the HDP, helping the party over the threshold, there is little electoral evidence: the CHP dropped only 1% and the AKP’s 9% loss largely matches the MHP and HDP’s combined 10% gain.[4] In the previous three election-cycles, the AKP had benefitted from candidates in the Kurdish regions running as independents; in a heavily Kurdish province like Van, the AKP was able to win 50% of the seats with 40% of the vote, and in Mardin, it won 50% with only 30% of the vote. In other provinces where the AKP faced major parties, the electoral system still worked to its advantage: in 2011, 66% of the vote in Aksaray had given it 100% of the three seats.

Fifteen Largest MHP % Gains
2011 2015 +/- +/- 2011 2015 +/-
Kilis 59.5 49.2 -10.3 -7.5 -17.8 21 35.6 +14.6
Aksaray 66 58.4 -7.6 -5 -12.6 17.9 30.3 +12.4
Karabuk 57.9 47.9 -10 -1.8 -11.8 15.5 27.6 +12.1
Usak 49.8 38 -11.8 -1.3 -13.1 16.4 27.9 +11.5
Kuthaya 64.6 54.6 -10 -0.6 -10.6 15.8 27 +11.2
Kirsehir 50.8 39.6 -11.2 -3.1 -14.3 21.9 32.2 +10.3
Erzurum 69.2 52 -17.2 -2 -19.2 13.3 23.5 +10.2
Kirikkale 27.7 23.1 -11.4 0.2 -11.2 18.8 28.9 +10.1
Zonguldak 47.2 38 -9.2 1.5 -7.8 6.3 16.4 +10.1
Gumushane 64.9 56.9 -8 -2.7 -10.7 21.6 31.4 +9.8
Kayseri 64.9 52.4 -12.5 0.3 -12.2 18 27.8 +9.8
Nevsehir 60.4 52.5 -7.9 -1.7 -9.6 18 27.7 +9.7
Yozgat 66.6 58.3 -8.3 -1.9 -10.2 18.3 27.9 +9.6
Artvin 46.8 38.88 -8 -4 -12 13.6 22.9 +9.3
Yalova 46.8 39.5 -7.3 -3.3 -10.6 10.6 19.5 +8.9

The MHP’s greatest gains came in central Anatolia. Whereas Kurdish voters in the southeast had lost faith in Erdoğan for his foot-dragging on the peace process and his tacit support for ISIS against Kurdish fighters in Syria, his nationalist supporters in Anatolia had lost faith in him for talking with PKK leaders in the first place and involving Turkey in the Syrian quagmire at all.[6] In Aksaray and elsewhere, Bahçeli addressed fears of terror and anger over corruption. Mid-way through his speech, he declared:

Three hundred and one of our countrymen lie beneath the ground in Soma. [AKP leaders] said, “It’s just how things are”; they haven’t paid for it. They’ve given food and shelter to the Al-Qaeda militants who attacked us, raided our consulate in Mosul, and committed murders all around us. They said, “Muslims don’t spill blood”; they haven’t paid for it. They secretively and illegally built a palace; they openly frittered away our daily labors. “It’s worthy and befitting,” they said; they haven’t paid for it . . .Wristwatch bribes, rooms with safes, shoeboxes filled with cash passed through their hands. They said, “There’s a parallel structure”; they worked to distract; they haven’t paid for it. They embraced the butcher at İmralı prison [PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan]; they shook hands with terrorists; they made deals over the blood of our martyred soldiers. They said, “It’s an ‘opening’” . . .they haven’t paid for it. They were contractors for the “Middle East Project”[7]; they turned the Islamic world into a bloodbath, playing courier for global powers. They said, “2023 Vision”; they haven’t paid for it. They embraced Armenians; they praised rebels; they apologized; they surrendered at the negotiating table. They said, “We’re facing up to history”; they haven’t paid for it.

The speech was not only condemnations; it also contained promises. Bahçeli said an MHP government would double retirement payments within four months, raise the minimum wage and welfare benefits, staff mosques with sufficient imams and muezzins, remove taxes on fertilizers and other farm supplies, raise the salaries of local officials, clarify the status of land classified as forestry[8], remove taxes on chauffeurs and other drivers, increase electricity subsidies for the poor, increase education funding, end entrance examinations for universities, and—most notable—give government support and recognition to Alevi cemevis and open university theology faculties to Alevi scholars.[9]

Bahçeli concluded his speech by declaring, “Happy is one who calls himself a Turk.”

Except for the closing reference to Turkish ethnicity—a dog-whistle to the sort of Turkish nationalist that paints the quote on hillsides overlooking majority-Kurdish cities—the speech gives little indication of what makes leftwing Turks consider the party “fascist.”[10]

Bahçeli, the head of the MHP for nearly twenty years, is a former university professor in his late sixties. Born in 1947, to a family of wealthy landowners with Turkmen ethnic roots, he has never married and is known for a being “reticent, with an extremely cautious attitude, with a fastidiousness, a seriousness that does not put up with ‘informal’ behavior, and distant personality.”[11] As described by political scientists Metin Heper and Başak İnce, Bahçeli is unlike other Turkish politicians in that he:

Keeps his distance from people, including those he knows well. This type of behavior on his part seems to be also the consequence of his modernistic approach to life. For instance, he does not like to be kissed on the cheeks by other men or to be touched on the arm by others during a conversation . . .[he] does not try to appeal to people’s feelings and emotions; he targets their intellect and logic.[12]

Numerous accounts of the MHP under Bahçeli’s leadership emphasize the moderating effect he has had on the party’s more violent, nationalist supporters. During his tenure, the MHP has repeatedly presented itself as open to compromise. While in government between 1999 and 2002, Bahçeli removed ministers who did not follow coalition goals and agreed to forego the death penalty for PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.[13]In the words of Heper and İnce, “In Bahceli’s list of priorities the country comes first, his party second, and his personal political fortune (a distant) third.”[14]

Even taking these compliments at face value, any political party is more than a single man—no matter how tightly he controls its structure. The Nationalist Action Party is the third largest political organization in a country of seventy-eight million people. Organizing large numbers of people requires appealing to and incorporating diverse interests; it requires the support of the financial, educational, and media institutions in a society. Representing that complexity is far from easy, but one way we can begin to appreciating this diversity is by considering the members of the party’s fifteen-person executive committee, a collection of politicians, businessmen, academics, activists, and convicted murderers.

II. Tuğrul Türkeş and the Cult of the “Leader”

Turkes and Bolukbasi

Alparslan Türkeş and Deniz Bölükbaşı


The roots of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) can be found in the politically fractious 1940s. Until the early part of the decade, the ruling Republican People’s Party (CHP)—the only legal party in the country—had included politicians and intellectuals who emphasized Turkish ethnicity as the most important glue holding the nation together and defining the government’s policies at home and abroad. State-led efforts to Turkify the nation ethnically and linguistically reflect the profound influence of such arguments on leaders of the early republic.

In the context of WWII, however, the foreign-policy implications of Turkism led to strident anti-Communism, potential pro-Nazism, and calls to claim Turkic territories in places like Crimea and Central Asia. Especially after the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad, with the German army looking weak, the Turkish government could no longer tolerate these loud voices. Pan-Turkist organizations were closed and many leading figures were prosecuted.[15]Furious with the CHP, many of these figures initially supported the opposition Democrat Party (DP), but soon found it to be too accommodating. In 1948, members of the DP advocating a harder line broke away to form their own party: the National Party (MP).

Headed by Fevzi Çakmak, the retired head of the Turkish armed forces, the party appealed to Turkish nationalism and religious sentiment, but its momentum slowed over the following year as it suffered major setbacks: the deaths of both Çakmak and Kenan Öner, its other dominant figure.[16] Leadership passed to Osman Bölükbaşı. Thirty-nine in 1950, Bölükbaşı was a dynamic young politician from a family of wealthy Anatolian landholders. Before joining the MP, he had been a party inspector for the DP, traveling around Anatolia, working to build up the party.[17]

Deniz Bölükbaşı

Osman Bölükbaşı

As head of the MP, he was highly critical of both the CHP and DP leadership but struggled to maintain control of the organization. At its 1953 convention, religious factions within the party took control. Bölükbaşı and most of the founders resigned, and the party was soon prosecuted and closed for its “reactionary” ideology. Bölükbaşı reestablished the organization as the Republican National Party (CMP) and, after it merged with the Villager Party (KP), the CMKP. When other party leaders agreed to a coalition with İsmet İnönü’s military-backed government in 1962, Bölükbaşı resigned once again, continuing in politics as an independent. The CMKP straggled along for several years until it was taken over in 1965 by a far more ambitious politician: Alparslan Türkeş.

A leader of the 1960 coup with ties to nationalist organizations, Türkeş had been sidelined by the army leadership and sent off to a post in New Dehli until his term ended in 1963.[18] From exile, Türkeş remained in contact with the nationalist community. Initially, he had trouble making inroads since the movement was riven in the 1960s by divisions between religious and secular nationalists, the former resenting Türkeş for his role in removing the DP in favor of the secular military.[19]

Though Türkeş was successful in taking control of the CMKP, it took him another four years to find the right rhetoric for attracting religious supporters. Ultimately this feat required sidelining secular nationalists. In order to move the party in a more religious direction, the 1969 convention was held in Adana, away from the secular centers of Ankara and Istanbul. During the conference, the party symbol was changed to three crescents (Islamic symbolism) instead of a wolf (Turkic symbolism) and the name of the party was changed to the MHP.

The ideology Türkeş espoused for his party was called the “Nine Lights.” These guiding principles included nationalism, idealism, morality, socialism (toplumculuk rather than sosyalizm), a scientific mentality, liberalism, peasant care, populism, and industrialization. Summing up these principles in a 1975 book, Türkeş declared:

In the course of history, the life of the Turkish nation has a great and powerful existence. To remove it from this [current] fallen state and direct it quickly towards the good is necessary. For this, there is no need to copy sadistic Slavic Marxism or embrace cold Anglo-Saxon capitalism. For us, another road, a third way, is necessary. The national ideal (ülkü) should aspire to strengthen the Turkish nation . . .The spirit of this doctrine should be the principles of “Everything for the Turk, true to the Turk, and according to the Turk.”[20]

Türkeş’ death in 1997 set-off a leadership struggle within the party. Though the MHP under his leadership had allowed a great degree of ideological variation, Türkeş’ own leadership was not up for debate. Supporters had referred to him as “Leader” (Başbuğ), which—when coupled with the military metaphors and symbolism the party employed—created far more troubling connotations than the leader-worship found in other Turkish political parties. Who could command such support in his absence was unclear.


Alparslan Türkeş

By the time of the May 1997 extraordinary congress, seven candidates remained in competition. The strongest candidates included Devlet Bahçeli, who had served as General Secretary in Türkeş’ absence and his assistant thereafter; Ramiz Ongun, the head of the party youth arm during much of the 1970s and popular with the party base; and Türkeş’ son Tuğrul.

Trained in economics, Tuğrul Türkeş had worked in a number of government agencies and written columns for various nationalist newspapers during his father’s lifetime. He also served on the board of state firms like Petkim and Republic Development Bank. Over time, his business connections grew to include insurance companies, hotel associations, and electronics firms.[21] In 1987, when bans on former party leaders were lifted, Tuğrul joined his father in politics as part of the Nationalist Work Party (MÇP) and then followed him when that party folded back into a reformed MHP in 1992. During the 1990s, he moved up through the party organization, angering some who resented his role as “an heir apparent.”[22]

At the first ballot, Tuğrul received 412, Bahçeli 389, and Ongun 231. Sensing that a coalition was forming against them, Türkeş supporters began leaping to the stage, declaring that they did not recognize the legitimacy of the results. The chaos led party officials to postpone the congress. This announcement led to fighting and gunshots on the convention room floor.[23] When the party reconvened in July, Bahçeli was declared the winner. Though Türkeş voiced his support for the party’s decision, both he and Ongun maneuvered to contest the leadership again at the regular November convention. Türkeş’ efforts to sway party members came to naught—even his step-mother declined to support him, opting for Ongun instead.[24] In any event, the challenges failed and Bahçeli was reelected.

Months of intraparty tension followed resulting in Türkeş leaving to form the Bright Turkey Party (ATP).[25] His party did not contest the 1999 election that (for reasons discussed in section three) resulted in the MHP’s best electoral showing in its history. In 2002, Türkeş merged his party with the center-right True Path Party, but even in combination they failed pass the 10% electoral threshold. At this point, Türkeş resigned from the party and electoral politics, turning the organization over to Oktay Öztürk, an MHP politician from Erzurum who had followed Türkeş into the electoral wilderness.

In 2007, Bahçeli invited Türkeş and his faction back into the MHP—an offer they accepted. The organization was officially shuttered in 2010. In 2011, Türkeş was placed on the MHP central committee and Öztürk followed him three years later. The two men represent what remains of the largely cowed or placated opposition to Bahçeli within the party.

III. Atila Kaya, Celal Adan, and the Idealists

In addition to Türkeş and Öztürk, other MHP members had left the MHP and joined the Bright Turkey Party in 1998 as well; one was Mehmet Bilir. In 1998, Bilir had resigned his position as mayor of Kırıkhan, a town in the province of Hatay. Two years later, he was arrested for his alleged involvement in a nationalist gang called the “Tarzans,” which included a journalist and several policemen. When arrested, Bilir and these men were found in possession of silencers, Kalashnikovs, and handguns. According to authorities, Bilir had provided shelter to a nationalist hitman named Abdullah Çatlı and helped him during a plot to assassinate Azeri president Haydar Aliyev.[26]

Çatlı’s death three years earlier—in a car also carrying his girlfriend, a high-ranking police official, and a powerful member of parliament, all returning from a meeting with the minister of the interior—had led to investigations revealing the close ties between politicians, soldiers, the mafia, and Turkish nationalists. Çatlı was but the most famous example of these relationships. He had been born in the Anatolian province of Nevşehir in 1956 and grown interested in nationalism while in high school. Two of his teachers had offered judo classes after school; at these courses, martial arts was paired with lectures on the glories of the Turkish nation and the threats facing its people. According to his biographers, these sports clubs-cum-command camps “served as entertainment in Anatolia’s small cities.”[27]

By the late 1960s, these nationalist camps had become widespread. In 1965, Türkeş had taken control of the CMKP and propounded his “Nine Lights” doctrine—the second of which being “Idealism” (Ülkücülük). The following year, his allies had established the first Idealist Hearth organization with the stated mission of fighting communism. Over the following several years, the young Hearth recruits became increasingly familiar figures in urban areas. In 1968, the organization began establishing training camps in the countryside “aimed at creating armed forces that could fight against the rural guerilla forces of the radical left.”[28]

Youth like Çatlı were deeply affected by the education they received at these camps which mixed ethnic Turkish nationalism with more religious ideas that Türkeş and Hearth-founder Dündar Taşer believed would expand their electoral appeal.[29] Political scientist Sultan Tepe describes this ideology as:

A simplified version of Turkish history . . .[Hearth] leaders explain the nature of massive global changes to the attendants and promote the idea of Nizam-i Alem, a universal order under the leadership of the Turkish world. The party’s emphasis on “change without alienation” accentuates the idea that maintaining the essence of Turkish traditions is necessary to face the challenges of globalization. Lectures on the Turkic republics stress that Turkism has once again become a driving force in history.[30]

In Çatlı’s youth, many on the Turkish right had grown convinced that communism was on the rise in their country and the world. International events gave them reason to be worried: the Chinese revolution in 1949 had been followed five years later by the French defeat in Vietnam and, five years after that, a small insurgency had succeeded in overthrowing the Cuban government. Domestically, the liberal constitution of 1962 had strengthened the labor movement, encouraged minority groups, and allowed an avowedly socialist party to enter the parliament. According to Taşer, this was unacceptable: the state cannot be a neutral arbiter, letting a multitude of voices in society debate; the state must take a stand against those who seek to weaken it.[31]

Several groups in Turkish society struck Idealists as potentially subversive: leftwing students, Kurdish nationalists, and Alevis. During the late 1960s, Idealists began carrying out attacks on these groups and while these groups certainly had their own radical members, Idealists were not particularly discriminating in their choice of targets. In urban areas, around schools and in the growing shantytowns, nationalists fought to establish “free zones.” In regions where there were high concentrations of Alevis, nationalists carried our vicious attacks. On March 5, 1971 for example, Alevis in the town of Kırıkhan were attacked. According to witnesses, in the days leading up to the attack, local rightwing leaders called on supporters to gather on Friday and give the local Alevis “a lesson.” On the day of the attack, a convoy of several hundred trucks rolled into the town, disgorging thousands of nationalists who proceeded to beat up local teachers and burn Alevi buildings. Two were killed and many more injured. According to Ali Göçmen, a local newspaper publisher and member of an important Alevi family in the area, future mayor (and eventual “Tarzan gang” member) Mehmet Bilir was among these nationalist attackers.[32]

Bilir had met Çatlı several years later in Ankara while both were attending school.[33] In 1974, Çatlı moved to the city and begun taking classes at Finance Advanced School. Like most schools in the city, this one had become a site for struggle between students on the right and left; his was controlled by nationalists. In the city, both men became active in the Idealist Hearth organization. In 1977, Çatlı became the Ankara provincial president; the following year he was elected head of the Idealist Youth Association. Through nationalist campus politics he came to know a young teaching assistant, Devlet Bahçeli, who was working during the mid-1970s at the Ankara Business and Economics Academy (AİTA), where he founded the schools’ Idealist Heath.[34]

Despite a military coup in 1971 aimed at reasserting authority over Turkey’s increasingly violent politics, left-right clashes increased over the decade. Following the electoral victory of the increasingly socialist CHP in 1973 and the election of Ramiz Ozgun to the head of the MHP Youth Arm in 1974, Idealist groups were encouraged to “renew” their resistance against communism; in practice this resolution led to additional attacks on Alevis, left-wing academics, and politicians, as well as attacks and reprisals carried out by groups on the left.[35] In July 1978, for example, a professor at Ankara’s Haccetepe University was gunned down outside his house. Çatlı was suspected to have ordered the execution. He was also suspected in the murders of several Turkish Workers’ Party members the following October.[36]


Abdullah Çatlı

The military coup of 1980 led to the arrests of many Idealists. Like numerous others, Çatlı fled the country; first to Bulgaria, then to Austria, and then to Switzerland where he was detained temporarily. What Çatlı did precisely during the 1980s is the stuff of conjecture and conspiracy theory: some suggest he assisted his fellow Idealist Mehmet Ali Ağca in attempting to assassinate the pope; some suggest he aided the Turkish intelligence service in fighting the PKK and the Armenian terrorist group ASALA. There is particularly strong evidence that he executed a Kurdish casino magnate named Ömer Lütfü Topal in 1996.

At the time of the 1980 coup, Çatlı was twenty-four. Although he may have chosen a life of globe-trotting and political intrigue thereafter, many Idealists’ options were more circumscribed. It was necessary for these young radicals to move on with their lives. Between 1980 and 1987 (when pre-coup political leaders like Türkeş were allowed to return to politics), a generation of nationalists got jobs, started families, and joined broadly rightwing parties like the ruling Motherland Party (ANAP). Others were less free to escape or integrate: after a long trial, Türkeş was sentenced to an eleven-year sentence (and served five); five Idealists were sentenced to death; another five to life-in-prison; and 221 to terms between ten months and thirty-six years.[37]

Even though the Idealists movement was targeted by the military, the 1980 coup leaders actually supported many of its ideas. In particular the military supported the “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis” that nationalist leaders had developed over the past several decades to hold their fractious coalition together. In the words of the elder Türkeş: “We are as Turkish as the Tengri mountain [in Central Asia] and as Muslim as the Hira mountain [near Mecca].”[38] Military leaders hoped that such formulations would serve to cement Turkish society as they had done for the MHP itself. The irony of their position was not lost on nationalists who grew fond of saying, “Our ideas are in power, but we are in prison.”[39]

Another irony was that the “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis” did not hold the MHP together. The party was closed in 1980 and Türkeş was banned from politics. A new party started by nationalists was barred from participating in the 1983 elections, and when the party finally reformed in 1985 as the “Nationalist Work Party,” many of its rank-and-file remained in ANAP. In 1987, it won less than 3% of the vote and in 1991 joined with the religious Welfare Party in order to clear the 10% electoral threshold. The coalition of the two parties, although clearly in the political interests of both, was controversial; many of the Kurdish members of the Welfare Party vehemently opposed any cooperation with Türkeş and his followers.[40]

Türkeş was under increasing pressure from his own party members. Young Idealists rather than older politicians had been the ones fighting in the 1970s and imprisoned during the 1980s. While Türkeş maintained his support for a strong state above all else, many of these youth were more skeptical; increasingly they banded around Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, president of the Idealist Heaths organization in the late 1970s. In 1992, Yazıcıoğlu broke with Türkeş and established his own party, the Great Union Party, which persisted even after his death in a helicopter crash in 2009.[41]

Little ever came of Yazıcıoğlu’s challenge. In the 1995 election he joined with ANAP. By the following election in 1999, Türkeş was dead and Bahçeli was in power. With his appeal as the anti-Türkeş candidate diminished, Yazıcıoğlu and his party performed poorly.[42] The 1999 election, moreover, gave the MHP its greatest electoral victory yet: 18% of the vote. Though many factors contributed to the success, the greatest cause was likely the civil war in the southeast. The polarizing violence of the 1990s fostered a political environment highly conducive to nationalism. In the culture, there was an increased emphasis on the Turkish nation, the army, and the unity of the state. Idealists groups would appear at bus stations to celebrate young men being shipped off to the southeast—and later they would attend military funerals, waving signs saying “Turkey will be a graveyard for [Öcalan].”[43] Football matches also became opportunities to chant nationalist slogans and, after games, hold demonstrations.[44]

As the public was growing more receptive to nationalist messages, nationalists themselves were seen to be moderating. Upon becoming party leader, Bahçeli moved to improve the image of Idealists; he asked activists to tone down their rhetoric and banned such classic identifiers as long mustaches, white socks, and head-banging greetings.[45]With the Welfare Party banned from politics and its successor under pressure from the military, the MHP picked up religious votes as well.

Its time in power, however, was disastrous politically. Bahçeli became part of a coalition with the Democratic Socialist Party led by long-time MHP nemesis Bülent Ecevit. Although Ecevit had grown far more nationalistic than he had been in the 1970s, it remained an awkward pairing. The coalition also oversaw the greatest natural and economic disasters in Turkish history: the 1999 earthquake and the 2001 stock market crash. The former led to tens of thousands of deaths; that latter forced Turkish leaders to surrender a great deal of economic autonomy.[46] The only bright spot for the coalition parties in these years was the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan—but even this victory caused problems for the MHP since Bahçeli ultimately dropped his demands for an execution in order to comply with EU demands. Similarly, in order to comply with the demands of foreign creditors, Bahçeli removed MHP ministers who resisted the coalition’s privatization policies.[47]

In the 2002 election, the MHP lost votes from its Idealist supporters and its religious supporters; its vote fell below the 10% threshold and it was swept from office for the next five years. Many Idealists argued that the result was a comment on Bahçeli’s compromises not on the appeal of nationalism. According to Idealist folksinger Ozan Arif:

[Between 1999 and 2002] the smallest scent of Idealist and MHP spirit couldn’t be smelled by this nation. This is the defeat of the strange (acube) group in parliament [claiming to speak] in the name of the Idealist movement, but following policies opposite to its nature and giving ear to voices other than its own base.[48]


Devlet Bahçeli in coalition with Mesut Yilmaz (left) and Bülent Ecevit (right)

Over the next five years, Idealists and Idealist-linked organizations became far more active in pushing their agendas through the courts and various NGOs; during these years, liberal writers and editors found themselves the targets of attacks, both legal and physical.[49] As for Bahçeli, although he avoided serious leadership challenges following the electoral defeat, he found it prudent to invite men like Türkeş back into the fold prior to the 2007 election.[50]

Even though the MHP maintains a degree of organizational distance from the Idealist Hearths, a glance at the party leadership shows how meaningless the separation remains: of fifteen executive board members, at least six have strong ties to the Idealist Hearths: Şefkat Çetin, Ahmet Kenan Tanrıkulu, Atila Kaya, Celal Adan, Oktay Öztürk, and İsmet Büyükataman.

A (brief) review of these men’s activities suggests than some have had little more than organizational roles in the Hearth organization: Öztürk was the president of the Idealist teacher’s union in Erzurum between 1978-80; Büyükataman was also a member of the teacher’s union as well as the president of the Bursa Idealist Hearth organization in the late 1970s. Other party leaders with Idealist links have more controversial actions in their past: Çetin, the president of the Idealist Hearths from 1978-80, has been accused of organizing the beating of another party member.[51]

Not all board members have confined their activities to intraparty struggles: in 1980, when he was twenty-three, Atila Kaya murdered a twenty-eight year old construction worker with leftist views who had come to Kaya’s hometown of Kars. Kaya was arrested for the murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 1991, however, he was released as part of a general amnesty. Over the next dozen years, he worked as a businessman and served as president of the Idealist Education and Culture Foundation. Although the mother of his victim requested he be banned from running for office, the courts allowed his candidacy and he was elected to Istanbul’s third district in 2007, 2011, and 2015.[52]

Celal Adan, by contrast, was never convicted of any crimes. In 1980 he was arrested and held for three years while being prosecuted for the murder of Kemal Türkler. The victim had been the head of DİSK, the largest left-wing union in Turkey. According to prosecutors, Türkeş had told Adan and another Idealist leader that he wanted Türkler “laying flat as cut hay.” Within days, the leftist leader had been executed outside his house, in front of his daughter.[53] Under torture, Adan admitted to involvement but later recanted. After three years, the charges were dropped and he was released based on insufficient evidence.

Like many Idealists, Adan joined a mainstream party (the True Path Party) and served as its provincial president for Istanbul until 1999 when he rejoined the MHP. Of the Idealists who were convicted of Türkler’s murder, all have been released in subsequent years due to various amnesties and alterations of sentencing guidelines. When a new package of judicial reforms releasing the final murderer was passed by the MHP and AKP in 2013, Türkler’s daughter held a press conference to declare: “Celal Adan who encouraged and provided weapons is now in parliament, making great efforts to free his [fellow] murderers.” Claiming defamation, Adan sued her. As journalist Nedim Şener observes, however, the case merely served to remind the public of his possible involvement.[54]

Finally, Ahmet Kenan Tanrıkulu has been linked to Abdullah Çatlı: a French journalist writing on the European drug trade claims the two men broke out of a Swiss prison in the early 1980s.[55] Whether such accusations are true or merely the stuff of conspiracy theory, their common circulation speaks to the myriad links between Idealists, the mafia, and the MHP. Moreover, these foregoing examples have largely side-stepped discussing the links between Idealists and the special military units used to fight PKK rebels in the southeast during the 1990s. Glimpses of this “Deep State” linking powerful local interests and criminal organizations with nationalist politicians can be seen in the death of Abdullah and the arrest of Mehmet Bilir and his “Tarzan” gang.[56] At the party’s highest levels, however, the presence of a man like Mustafa Hidayet Vahapoğlu, a former psychological-operations specialist, is the only prominent indication of the ties between the MHP leadership and the military.

IV. Ruhsar Demirel and Moderation


Ruhsar Demirel with Devlet Bahçeli

It is not Vahapoğlu’s military career that links him to the other members of the MHP executive board; it is his education: like five of the other fourteen members, he has received an advanced degree or worked at Gazi University in Ankara.[57] Many scholars discuss this “academician group” as though it were a select faction of the party—the clique gathered around Gazi University graduate and professor Devlet Bahçeli—but role of education and consciousness-raising in the party is strong at all levels: Abdullah Catli was introduced to nationalism through his high school teachers and many of the Idealist activists discussed earlier originally trained to be teachers and served in the Idealist-aligned teacher’s union.[58]

Besides Vahapoğlu, the Gazi faction on the party executive committee includes Ruhsar Demirel, Zühal Topcu, Şefkat Çetin, Edip Semih Yalçın, and Mevlüt Karakaya. With the exception of Çetin, these members are not linked to publicized violent acts; instead they present an image of a party reforming itself through an emphasis on education and expertise. Karakaya was an economist for the World Bank and the MHP candidate in the 2014 Ankara mayor’s race; Yalçın is the author of numerous books on Atatürk; and Demirel worked for many years in the Ministry of Health.

The examples of Zühal Topcu and Ruhsar Demirel are illustrative: Topcu was first elected to the parliament in 2011 after two decades of academic work at Gazi and other universities. Gazi was also her alma mater—she received her doctorate in 1990 after studying under professors including Bahçeli. Over the course of her career, she wrote numerous books on comparative education systems. Named to the executive committee in 2015, she became only the second women ever to serve on the board. The first was Ruhsar Demirel four years earlier.

Demirel had joined the board at a particularly troubled moment for the party. In April 2011, with the June parliamentary elections approaching, a series of sex tapes began leaking to the internet. The tapes showed a number of MHP leaders with women who were not their wives (and, in one case, sixteen years old). During May, ten MHP leaders resigned, including nine members of the executive committee.[59] Following the election (in which the MHP lost eighteen seats), Bahçeli sought to change the party’s image as patriarchal by naming Demirel.[60] Although the MHP parliamentary group continued to have far less female representatives than other parties, Demirel enabled the party to speak more directly on issues relating to women.[61] Chief among these issues was the right to wear a headscarf in state institutions such as schools, offices, courtrooms, and parliament.

In 2011, the ban on headscarves remained in force (though its application in schools varied greatly). Since the 1999 campaign, MHP leaders had promised to solve the “headscarf issue.” While in office, however, they claimed it needed to be subordinated to more economic issues.[62] Similar to the Islamist Virtue Party whose headscarf-wearing representative, Merve Kavakçı, showed up for her swearing in ceremony covered and was subsequently removed from parliament and stripped of her citizenship, the MHP also included a headscarf-wearing representative, Nesrin Ünal. While Ünal showed up for group meetings covered, she removed her headscarf in parliament. In some cases, Bahçeli even defended bans by observing that men with ponytails, earrings, and shaved heads were banned as well from certain institutions.[63] Regardless of promises to lift restrictions, the MHP made little progress. Out of power after 2002, Bahçeli reiterated his support for a prompt solution and characterized efforts and statements by the AKP as “cheap exploitation” of the issue for political gain.[64]


Nesrin Ünal

In 2013, when the Turkish parliament finally removed the laws that prevented women from wearing headscarves during sessions, it was Demirel, not Bahçeli, who spoke for the MHP. After supporting the measure, she reminded the other members of parliament that the MHP had called for such a change and drawn up legislation in past years:

In 2008 [the AKP] didn’t do it; in 2010, we [submitted it] again . . .Still no one made a sound because there was an election approaching . . .

Especially to the gentlemen I was to be heard: please don’t make politics out of us women . . .Today in Turkey there are many other things that need to be talked about—this isn’t it . . .There are ninety-one thousand mothers in this country; not what we wear but what they aren’t eating, where they aren’t working, the bread they aren’t bringing home from work, the health services they aren’t getting: these are the necessary questions . . .

Privacy (mahremiyet) is the most important value in our society. Don’t invade our privacy. How does a woman cover herself? How many children does she have? Can she have these children by caesarian? Does she drink ayran? This is our private life . . .

All things that are positive, that expand freedom, that teach us our rights—[the MHP] is there.[65]

This talk of freedom and respect for others’ lifestyles compliments the efforts Bahçeli, Tuğrul Türkeş, and other MHP leaders have taken to distance themselves from the extreme rightwing in recent years. Even after falling below 9% in the 2002 elections, Bahçeli cautioned his followers to remain restrained: “Idealists have no business on the streets . . .in the first quarter of the twenty-first century . . .there should be computers in their hands, not guns.”[66] Potential opponents within the party like the younger Türkeş echoed his statements, adding, “The politics we are doing has no relation to those youth in the streets.”[67] Even on issues of Kurdish nationalism, Bahçeli tried to find a more moderate position by arguing, “We need to distinguish between divisive terrorist traitors and our Kurdish-speaking siblings.”[68]

Yet no matter how much MHP leaders attempt to moderate the party’s image, they remain limited by their emphasis on a national unity defined in terms of a constructed Turkish ethnicity. Their notion of “Turkishness” can be elastic at its edges, but a Turk-centered world-view remains constant.[69] Faced with the AKP’s “Kurdish opening,” Bahçeli dubbed it the “PKK opening,” and strongly opposed it.[70] MHP executive board members refer to the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as the “political-wing of the PKK.”[71] Such statements serve to hold the MHP’s existing coalition of rural and urban voters together, but they place a large portion of the electorate permanently beyond the party’s reach.[72]

The party’s electoral success depends, therefore, on appealing to voters’ reactive instincts, and such dependence makes it difficult to disentangle the political organization from the people who staff and support it. While Idealist Hearths may not be officially part of the MHP, they remain one of the primary institutions through which MHP voters can socialize. Correlation need not mean causation, and frequent reports of violence associated with Idealist Hearths and other nationalist organizations may not implicate the MHP directly, but they are hard to compartmentalize.[73] On April 8, 2008, for example, a man named Ömer Ulusoy entered a university campus in Antalya to join his nationalist friends in a brawl with leftwing students. During the fight, he began firing at the leftwing students. Although the local MHP organization immediately denied it knew him, pictures soon emerged of Ulusoy attending a ceremony four days earlier at the local party headquarters. The scandal led Bahçeli to dissolve the MHP administration in Antalya.[74]

Though Bahçeli condemned Ulusoy’s violence and moved quickly to punish the local MHP organization that had fostered such violent behavior, his condemnations of nationalists only go so far. Following the June 2015 elections, Idealists took to the streets to protest the Chinese government’s treatment of its Turkic people. At one event, in Istanbul’s central tourist area of Sultanahmet, Idealist protestors began chasing after a group of Korean tourists they assumed to be Chinese. Only police intervention saved the tourists from being attacked by the crowd.[75] Several days later, while giving an interview, Bahçeli was asked about the event and dismissed the behavior of the Idealists: “These are kids; someone sweeps them up and they can follow along. Between Chinese and Koreans, how can one distinguish? Slanted eyes. . . .both have slanted eyes . . .” [76]

Asked by his interviewer whether it would be any better had the Idealists been able to differentiate—whether, in that case, the violence would have been acceptable—Bahçeli evaded the question.


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[1] Political scientists Metin Heper and Basak Ince disagree with the characterization of the MHP as a “fascist” party in the mold of rightwing parties in France and Austria: “In an environment [i.e. Turkey] where the ethno-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, authoritarianism and a state acting on behalf of specific social or political group were largely absent, there was no reason for a political leader to adopt them as her/his goals. This was even less probable if the leader was one like Bahçeli who is known for his high moral standards, a balanced approach to politics, and for his avoidance of polar and utopian views.” Moreover, they reject the characterization of the MHP as an anti-Kurdish party: “The party has not taken a hostile stance against Kurds. This was because patriotism rather than ethno-nationalism informed the MHP discourse and praxis” (Metin Heper and Başak İnce, “Devlet Bahçeli and ‘Far Right’ Politics in Turkey, 1999-2002,” Middle Eastern Studies 42, no. 6 (2006): 884-885.

[2]Seçilmiş Göstergelerle Aksaray,” Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu (Ankara, 2013): 28; “Aksaray,” Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

[3]Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi Genel Başkanı Sayın Devlet BAHÇELİ’nin, ‘Aksaray Mitingi’nde yapmış oldukları konuşma,12 Mayıs 2015,” Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi.

[4] Ezgi Başaran, “CHP’den HDP’ye giden ’emanet’ ne kadar, buyrun bu kadar,” Radikal, 6/9/15.

[5] The graph does not include the HDP because (with the exception of Erzurum) MHP strongholds have few Kurdish voters. The one outlier is Iğdır, a province on the eastern border and the only province where the MHP won a plurality in 2011. Unlike surrounding provinces, Iğdır has a large Azeri minority that changes the electoral calculations of the parties. In 2011, the independent candidate and the AKP candidate split the vote 32%-28%, allowing the MHP to win half the seats with only 34% of the vote. In 2015, however, with the AKP vote down to 10% and the HDP fielding an Azeri candidate, the MHP vote share fell to 27% and the HDP picked up both seats (Abdülkadir Konuksever, “Iğdır’da HDP-MHP yarışı,” Al Jazeera, 5/31/15).

[6] The splits within the AKP were most clear in Erzurum—a province with many nationalists but also many Kurds. In the election, the AKP’s vote share dropped 17%, with the gains split roughly between the MHP (+10%) and the HDP (+9%.).

[7] In the same way that leftwing critics of the George W. Bush administration speak of Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the “Project for a New American Century” as something more devious than merely a group of like-minded conservatives in Washington D.C. publishing a policy brief, so Turkish nationalists refer to the “Great Middle East Project” as an ongoing, concerted plot.

[8] Changes in 2012 to the Forestry Law have created uncertainty about who owns property on lands designated “forest.” This is significant given that the new Reciprocity Law has made it easier to sell land to residents of rich western and Arab countries—albeit harder to sell property to residents of Turkey’s neighboring countries in border regions (“Change in Turkish property law brings unwelcome hiatus,” Kalkan Turkish Local News, 6/19/12; Mehmet Cetingulec, “Real estate sales boom as Turkey opens to foreign buyers,” Al-Monitor, 6/24/14).

[9] In the 2007 election, the MHP nominated several Alevis—though, since they were not highly-placed on provincial electoral lists, these candidates did not win (Meliha Okur, “MHP’nin Alevileri!” Sabah, 6/19/07).

[10] Except, perhaps, his vague resemblance to a Star Wars villain.

[11] Tanıl Bora and Kemal Can, Devlet ve Kuzgun: 1990’lardan 2000’lere MHP (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2004), 409.

[12] Metin Heper and Başak İnce, “Devlet Bahçeli”: 875.

[13] Alev Cinar and Burak Arikan, “The Nationalist Action Party: Representing the State, the Nation or the Nationalists” in Political Parties in Turkey (Great Britain: Frank Cass, 2002) 37-38; Michael Gunter, “The Continuing Kurdish Problem in Turkey After Öcalan’s Capture,” Third World Quarterly 21, no. 5 (2000): 864; M. Hakan Yavuz, “The Politics of Fear: The Rise of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in Turkey,” Middle East Journal 56, no. 2 (2002): 219; Bülent Aras and Gökhan Bacik, “The Rise of Nationalist Action Party and Turkish Politics,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 6, no. 4 (2000): 59.

[14] Metin Heper and Başak İnce, “Devlet Bahçeli”: 876.

[15] Jacob Landau, Pan-Turkism: From Irredentism to Cooperation (London: Hurst & Company, 1995 [1981]), 115-117. As one MHP historian recalls, “İsmet İnönü was a nightmare for Turkish Nationalists. His era had been a celebratory time for Turks’ enemies, Islam’s enemies, and those who sought to divide the divide the nation” (Ahmet Karabacak, Üç Hilâl’in Hikayesi [Istanbul: Bilgeoguz, 2011], 16).

[16] Kemal Karpat, Turkey’s Politics: The Transition to a Multi-Party System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), 219.

[17] Adem Çaylak, Osman Bölükbaşı ve Siyasal Hareketi (Ankara: Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi, 2010), 38-44. Educated in France, Bölükbaşı returned to Turkey and worked as a math teacher for several years in the early 1940s before leaving to work with his father in his native Kırşehir. In 1946, he was invited to join the DP after he was recommended to party-founder Fuat Köprülü by one of the head-teachers at his old job.

[18] Jacob Landau, “The Nationalist Action Party,” Journal of Contemporary History 17, no. 4 (October 1982): 589.

[19] İlker Aytürk, “Nationalism and Islam in Cold War Turkey, 1944–69,” Middle Eastern Studies 50, no. 5 (2014): 710. Türkeş’s less religiously-motivated supports viewed the coup differently. As Ahmet Karabacak puts it: “What was the DP’s situation from the perspective of Turkish nationalists? Wasn’t it a party founded under the leadership of a Mason, Celal Bayar and that had, in an unjust fashion, closed eighty-four Nationalist Association branches, which had no other goal than to serve the Turkish youth?” (Karabacak, Üç Hilâl’in Hikayesi, 16).

[20] Alparslan Türkeş, Temel Görüşler (Istanbul: Dergah Yayınları, 1975), 37-38.

[21] See Tuğrul Türkeş biography on MHP website HERE.

[22] “Tuğrul Türkeş: ‘Veliaht değilim,’” Milliyet, 12/2/95.

[23] “Kongre yarım kaldı,” Milliyet, 5/19/97.

[24] İdil Tütüncü, “MHP’de zor seçim,” Milliyet, 11/23/97.

[25] As with his candidacy for party leader, Türkeş found his new party criticized by his step-mother, Seval, who said he was simple looking out for his own interests. She stood as a candidate for the Great Union Party, another splinter of the MHP (“Seval Türkeş’ten ATP-DYP ittifakına tepki,” Hürriyet, 9/9/02).

[26] Murat Doğukanlı, “Reis’in de ‘Reis’i yakalandı,” Milliyet, 9/9/00.

[27] Soner Yalçın and Doğan Yurdakul, Reis: Gladio’nun Türk Tetikçisi, 20th ed. (Istanbul: Doğan Kıtapçılık, 1997), 27.

[28] Meral Ugur Cinar, “When Defense Becomes Offense: The Role of Threat Narratives in the Turkish Civil War of the 1970s,” Turkish Studies 15, no. 1 (2014): 3.

[29] Aytürk, “Nationalism and Islam,” 710. Çatlı was so drawn to nationalist ideology that he named his daughter “Gökçen” after a character in the ethno-nationalist novel Bozkurtlar by Nihal Atsız (Yalçın and Yurdakul, Reis, 38).

[30] Sultan Tepe, “A Kemalist Movement? The Nationalist Action Party,” Turkish Studies 1, no. 2 (2000): 68.

[31] Cinar, “When Defense Becomes Offense”: 5.

[32] Milliyet, 3/6/71; Ali Göçmen, “Aleviler ve Alevilik,” 40; Mehmet Bayrak, “1971 Kırıkhan Olayı,” Binboğa Halkların Sesi, 3/26/11. The article by Bayrak points out that the Göçmen clan had been involved administering the region during the French mandate, which suggests that local power struggles might play a part in the violence as well.

[33] By 1978, Mehmet Bilir had returned to Kırıkhan and been elected president of the local Hearth (Metin Turhan, Ülkü Ocakları, 1968-1980 [Istanbul: Bilgeoguz, 2010], 878).

[34] Bora and Can, Devlet ve Kuzgun, 402. Bahçeli was also active in the nationalist union of teaching assistants the Nationalist Turkish Student Union, an increasingly religiously oriented group that included many of the AKP’s founders in its ranks (Fulya Atacan, “Explaining Religious Politics at the Crossroad: AKP-SP,” Turkish Studies 6, no.2 [2005]: 195).

[35] Yalçın and Yurdakul, Reis, 44.

[36] “Çatlı’nın suç haritası” Milliyet, 1/5/97.

[37] Tanıl Bora, “Tarihten Günümüze: Kendi zindanda, fikri iktidarda,” Milliyet, 10/9/95. A list of the executed Idealists (along with biographies, pictures, and writings) can be seen HERE. The resentment of Idealists toward the military contrasted with the MHP leadership’s accommodating stance. The division was clear in a 2010 constitutional referendum that allowed for military officials to be prosecuted in non-military courts. Although Bahçeli opposed the referendum as an AKP power-grab, a good number of Idealists seem to have supported it (“Ülkücü ve milliyetçi hukukçulardan referandum için ‘evet’ deklarasyonu,” Zaman, 8/18/10; Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, “Kulturkampf in Turkey: The Constitutional Referendum of 12 September 2010,” South European Society and Politics 17, no. 1 [2012]: 1-22; Sinan Ciddi, “Turkey’s September 12, 2010, Referendum,” MERIA Journal 15, no. 4 [December 2011]).

[38] Cinar and Arikan, “The Nationalist Action Party,” 27.

[39] Tanıl Bora and Kemal Can, Devlet-Ocak-Dergah: 12 Eylül’den 1990’lara Ülkücü Hareket (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1991), 120.

[40] Bora and Can, Devlet ve Kuzgun, 19.

[41] Yazıcıoğlu took many party activists with him when he broke with Türkeş. Rather than remaining tied to the Idealist Hearths, Yazıcıoğlu’s BBP became associated with the Alperen Hearths, which demonstrated for nationalist-religious goals more aggressively. Members of the Alperen Hearths have prayed in the Hagia Sofia in order to assert that it should become a mosque again; they have attacked Idealist Heath members; and they have attacked music events held at times they deem inappropriate (for example, a concert held the same week that clashes were occurring between the Chinese government and Uighurs) (“BBP’li ve MHFIİ gençler çatıştı,” Milliyet, 4/18/02; Jenny White, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012], 67).

[42] The only province where the BBP made much impact was in Yazıcıoğlu’s native Sivas—and, even there, it only garnered 17% (see Seçim Sonuçları).

[43] Merdan Yanardağ, MHP Değisti Mi? (Istanbul: Gendaş, 2002), 465.

[44] Nationalists may have been encouraged in their football protests by the presence of prominent nationalists in the team management. From 1993-1994, for example Güven Sazak, the brother of assassinated MHP parliamentarian Gün Sazak, was president of Fenerbahçe (Bora and Can, Devlet ve Kuzgun, 265).

[45] Süleyman Arat, “Beyaz çorap yasağını deldi,” Hürriyet, 4/13/01; Cinar and Arikan, “The Nationalist Action Party,” 33. Interestingly, prior to Bahçeli’s election, it was often Tuğrul Türkeş who was described as representing the new “mustache-less” (i.e. moderate) tendency in the party.

[46] The MHP found itself implicated in the post-earthquake accusations of government corruption. Transport Minister Koray Aydin was forced to resign for his handling of construction projects in Izmir (Harun Gürek, “O hala müteahhit! “ Milliyet, 8/29/01; Yavuz, “The Politics of Fear,” 219).

[47] Transport Minister (and candidate for leadership in 1997) Enis Oksuz and Ali Güngör were forced out by Bahceli for opposing structural reforms (Cinar and Arikan, “The Nationalist Action Party,” 37-38).

[48] Ruşen Çakir, Nereye Gitti Bu Ülkücüler? (Istanbul: Metis, 2003), 30-31.

[49] See my own piece, “In a Deep State,” for a discussion of nationalist activities during the 2000s.

[50] At the 2002 Extraordinary General Meeting of the MHP, Bahceli was reelected with 600 votes. Ramiz Ongun received 300 and Korya Aydın 137 (“MHP’de Bahçeli yeniden Genel Başkan,” Hürriyet, 10/12/03).

[51] In 2000, the MHP supported Ahmet Necdet Sezer as president and Bahceli ordered parliamentarians to support the choice. When one high-ranking member, Sadi Somuncuoğlu, decided to run anyway, he was attacked by several of his fellow parliamentarians as he was leaving a meeting with Bahceli. Somuncuoğlu accused Çetin, the MHP’s Vice President, of being behind the attack. Çetin defended the attacks: “Somuncuoğlu disrespected our customs. People who do that don’t deserve to wear the MHP uniform. It will be striped from him.” Çetin also defended the representative who had attacked Somuncuoğlu: “Why would he be punished? He’s a very valuable MHP representative. On this point of action-reaction, [he] showed Idealist behavior” (“MHP: Üniformayı çıkaracak,” Milliyet, 4/27/00). Somuncuoğlu had ignored party authority before: in 1992, he had re-founded the MHP in opposition to Türkeş’ Nationalist Work Party. Although Somuncuoğlu had hoped to shut the aging Türkeş out of the revived organization, Türkeş ultimately prevailed and took control of the new MHP (Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic [New York: New York University Press, 1997], 142-143).

[52]İdamdan Yargıtay kararıyla kurtulan hapisten afla çıkan katil Meclis’te,” Radikal, 7/24/07. Also in 2007, Mustafa Mit, who had been accused of involvement in the killing of seven Turkish Workers’ Party members in 1978, was elected to Ankara’s second district (Mesut Hasan Benli, “Katliam sanığı birinci sıradan aday,” Hürriyet, 6/6/07).

[53] “Ülkücü bazı kuruluşların Türkeş hesabına para yatırdıklarının saptandığı iddia ediliyor,” Milliyet, 5/9/81.

[54] Nedim Şener, “Kemal Türkler cinayet davası yeniden başladı!Posta, 2/27/13.

[55] Nuray Bayındır, “MHP kirli ilişkilerini sürdürüyor,” Özgür Politika, 4/22/00.

[56] Soon after his arrest in 2000, Mehmet bilir was released. He remains involved in Kırıkhan’s MHP organization and even has a street named after him (“‘Tarzanlar’ Çetesi DGM’de,” Türkiye, 9/13/00; “Kırıkhan Hurdacılar Sitesi’ne yeni içme suyu hattı,” Cihan, 8/9/15; “MHP İstişare Toplantısı Kırıkhanda Yapıldı,” Hatay Vatan, 4/3/13).

[57] Gazi University has been a nationalist stronghold for many years. One reflection of a university’s character can be seen in its Rector. Rectors are selected by the president of Turkey from a list prepared by the Higher Education Board (YÖK) after preliminary elections are held by the school faculty. Generally, YÖK follows the faculty rankings and the president chooses from the top contenders. The mix of faculty, state, and presidential interests, however, creates the possible of conflict and Gazi has often been at the center such disputes. In 2012, for example, Professor Ayşe Dursun ran as the liberal candidate against Professor Derviş Yılmaz, the nationalist. Dursun received 511 votes and Yılmaz 495. Professor Süleyman Büyükberber came in fifth place with 188. YÖK, however, moved him up to third place on the list it presented to President Abdullah Gül. Ultimately Gül chose fellow Kayseri-native Büyükberber, infuriating nationalist and liberal faculty at the school (Sedat Ergin, “Gül’ün rektör tercihleri çok tartışılacak,” Hurriyet, 6/17/12; “Rektör atamasında Gül’den üç sürpriz,” Milliyet, 7/8/12; “Gazi Üniversitesi’nde yandaş hemşehriye rektörlük kıyağı,” Egitim Habercisi, 7/10/12; Ahmet İnsel, “Hümanizma adına bölücülük,” Radikal 2, 7/15/12).

[58] E. Burak Arikan , Türk Sağının Türk Sorunu: Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (İstanbul: agorakitaplığı, 2008), 29. Cinar and Arikan, speak of an “unspoken divide within the party” between academics and the larger party organization (Cinar and Arikan, “The Nationalist Action Party,” 37).

[59]MHP’de deprem: Kaset istifaları!Radikal, 5/21/11.

[60]MHP başkanlık divanında ilk kadın,” Hürriyet, 6/20/11.

[61] In 2011, the percentages of women in the Turkish parliament were: AKP (41: 258, or 16%), CHP (19: 116, or 14%), MHP (3:50, or 6%), BDP (11: 24, or 32%). In 2015, the percentages are: AKP (46: 281, or 14%), CHP (20: 112, or 15%), MHP (4:76, or 5%), HDP (31: 80, or 39%).

[62] Aras and Bacik, “The Rise of Nationalist Action Party and Turkish Politics”: 52; “Adım adım uzlaşmaya doğru,” Milliyet, 5/14/99.

[63] “Bahçeli’den Ünal’a ‘konuşma’ talimatı,” Milliyet, 4/30/99; “Türban da,küpeli de yasak,” Milliyet, 7/15/00.

[64] “Devlet Bahçeli:Türbanı çözün, azarlamayın,” Milliyet, 2/15/06; Aykut Aktaş, “’Türbana destek veririm,’” Sabah, 10/11/10.

[65]İşte TBMM Genel Kurulu’ndaki başörtüsü konuşmalarının tam metni,” T24, 10/1/13.

[66] Fikret Bila, “‘Ülkücülerin elinde bilgisayar olmalı,’Milliyet, 4/16/05.

[67] Devrim Sevimay, “Siyaset sert yüzle yapılmaz,” Milliyet, 6/18/07.

[68]Bahçeli: Kürtçe konuşan kardeşlerimizi de kucaklıyoruz,” Vatan, 5/7/06.

[69] According to anthropologist Jenny White, “Muslim nationalists” sympathetic to the AKP have managed to envision a Turkey united by Islam and a shared Ottoman past rather than ethnicity. This more inclusive thinking drives attempts to find common ground with Kurds. However, an inability to appreciate the inequalities inherent in the Ottoman system has undermined the effectiveness of these efforts (Jenny White, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, 9-13).

[70]Bahçeli’den ülkücülere provokasyon uyarısı,” Hürriyet, 10/29/09.

[71]MHP’li Semih Yalçın: Demirtaş’a onun sapları bile düşmez,” Hürriyet, 6/11/15.

[72] Hatem Ete, Hamza Taşdelen, and Sami Orçun Ersay, “Ülkücülükten Tepkisel Milliyetçiliğe: İdeolojisi ve Seçmen Eğilimleri,” SETA (2014): 112-113.

[73]Bolu Ülkü Ocağı Başkanı tutuklandı,” Hürriyet, 4/3/08; Sertaç Koç, “Gazi’deki ‘yeniçeri çetesi’ne gözaltı,” Hurriyet, 9/13/11; “Gazi Üniversitesi’nde ülkücü kadınlardan sol görüşlü kadına dayak!,” Radikal, 12/28/14.

[74]İşte provokatör,” Hürriyet, 4/7/08; “Öğrencilere ateş eden Ömer Ulusoy yağlı boyacı çıktı,” Miliyet, 4/8/08; “MHP Antalya İl Yönetimi feshedildi,” Hürriyet, 4/8/08. After six years, Ulusoy was handed a seven-year sentence (“Ömer Ulusoy’a 7 yıl hapis cezası,Hürriyet, 12/23/14).

[75] “Ülkü ocaklarından “Koreli turist” açıklaması,” Radikal, 7/5/15.

[76] Ahmet Hakan, “Toplumsal yarılmayı AKP-CHP formülü çözer,” Hürriyet, 7/8/15.