During a radio show in the Netherlands in which I spoke about today’s elections in Turkey, there was some sniggering about the heart shape that Kılıçdaroğlu makes with his hands, that he has become known for during the campaign. Masses of people who attend rallies of the opposition alliance make the heart too. I think it is more meaningful than outsiders can fathom.
Like moustaches, there is a range of hand gestures in Turkey. The HDP of course uses the victory sign, and it has become firmly connected to the Kurdish struggle and people not connected to it won’t use it. Then there is the so-called Rabia sign, which Erdoğan started to use when Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in Egypt and which showed support for the Muslim Brotherhood: it’s a gesture with four fingers in the air and the thumb folded in. Then there is the famous hand gesture that assorted Turkish nationalists have used for decades: the Grey Wolf sign, with the pinkie and the index finger up and the thumb and the middle and ring finger pressed together.
The Grey Wolf sign is appreciated by pretty much all Turkish nationalists. Of course, an old fascist like Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that is in coalition with Erdoğan, makes it often, but Erdoğan too doesn’t shy away from making the ultra-nationalist sign sometimes.
And yes, Kiliçdaroglu has also been seen making the Grey Wolf sign – but not for a couple of years and definitely not recently. During this campaign, he has been balancing a fine line of trying to appeal to different communities in Turkey and at the same time not to alienate others. A Grey Wolf gesture would appeal to voters of the Good (IYI) Party, which is part of the alliance with Kiliçdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a break-away from Bahçeli’s MHP, but would instantly alienate the Kurdish voter base.
Kiliçdaroglu needed something new, and he chose the heart. Who can be against a heart? And it’s also a sign of this century, not of the previous one, and it speaks to younger audiences as well. So no, I don’t snigger when I see Kiliçdaroglu make the heart with his hands: he has annihilated the Grey Wolf sign with it brilliantly.
I do laugh every time I see leaders of the ‘table of six’, Kiliçdaroglu’s alliance, on a stage at an election rally: I try to watch closely whether Meral Akşener, leader of the IYI Parti, is joining in the heart hand gesture. Until now, I haven’t seen her do it. I think she isn’t able to, to be honest. She knows that if she puts her hand in the air, her pinkie and index finger won’t be able to resist going up and her thumb, middle and ring finger will be attracted to each other like magnets. So she keeps her hand down with a smirk.
There is some truth in this joking around. Meral Akşener is not a peoples’ politician. Turkish nationalism’s core is the protection of the state, not of the people. This is also the tradition that Kiliçdaroglu comes from. He has worked hard the last decade to pull the CHP away from its statism and drag it into the 21st century. Away from fascism and towards social democracy, you could say. Well, as I write that, I think: is that 21st century, social democracy? Or do we need something more revolutionary, something that isn’t part of the capitalist status-quo?
Asking the question is answering it, of course. Yes, we need something more revolutionary. The nation-state concept is out of date. That is was I find incredibly interesting about the Kurdish movement: they propose a system in which the people administer themselves and organize bottom-up, rendering the nation-state as we know it obsolete. The paradigm shift in the movement happened in the 1990s, and ever since, it has been truly focussed on the future and has left 19th and 20th century concepts behind. This also explains why it was close to impossible for the Kurdish issue to be solved under Erdoğan: he is dedicated to the state and was even trying to plunge Turkey back to Ottoman times, while the Kurdish movement was facing towards the future.
This will be the interesting thing to watch in case Kiliçdaroglu indeed wins today’s election: does he want to take Turkey to the future and slowly slowly come to embrace the idea of radical decentralisation and a democracy in which the state isn’t there to protect its own interests, but the interests of the people?
The heart gesture, you could say, is a gesture that breaks nobody’s heart. It’s not a Grey Wolf, but it’s not a victory sign even. Somewhere undecided, in between. Akşener will not feel obliged to keep her hand under control any more once the new parliament in inaugurated, and she will openly be the Grey Wolf she is again, possibly cooperating with MHP and Erdoğan if she deems it necessary. She won’t have to pretend to be a peoples’ politician any more. The Grey Wolf sign will be back, but will the ideology it represents strengthen or weaken under president Kiliçdaroglu?
What will the heart’s destiny be?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.