Senior AKP figure resigns from post after criticizing early Republican reforms

AKP Group Deputy Chair Mahir Ünal has announced that he resigned from his position in the party after his controversial criticisms about the early Republican reforms. AKP MP Özlem Zengin was appointed as Ünal's replacement.

Duvar English

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Group Deputy Chair Mahir Ünal on Oct. 31 announced that he resigned from his position in the party. 

“As of today, I have requested my dismissal from my position (from President Erdoğan) as Group Deputy Chair. I am grateful to our President Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the trust he has placed in me and the responsibilities he has given me so far,” Ünal said. AKP Tokat deputy Özlem Zengin was appointed as the new Group Deputy Chair.

Ünal’s resignation came after his controversial remarks on the early Republican reforms made in 1920's and 1930's.

“The harshest cultural revolution in history took place in Turkey. For example, the French revolution destroyed everything, but did not touch the dictionary. Again, one of the harshest revolutions is Mao's Chinese cultural revolution. The dictionary has not been touched. But unfortunately, as a cultural revolution, the (early Turkish) Republic has destroyed our lexicon, alphabet, language, in short, all our thinking sets,” Ünal said on Oct. 21, while speaking at a book fair in the southeastern province of Maraş.

In 1928, the Turkish parliament decided the new national alphabet will contain Latin letters. The previous Ottoman alphabet was containing Arabic and Persian characters. Islamist figures criticize this move and claims it disrupted the intellectual development of the Ottomans.

After his speech stirred a huge reaction on social media, Ünal said, "My words are being taken out of context. We were talking about a book by Cemil Meriç." Ünal said his words were not against the Republic itself, but to the so-called cultural revolution of the era.

Ünal’s remarks stirred huge reaction even among AKP’s allies.

Erdoğan’s ally far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli on Oct. 25 said that “Those who claim that the Republic has damaged Turkish culture, Turkish language and our thinking sets are in the grip of an unfortunate, indescribable and baseless mistake. It is not possible to understand and explain the Republic with the judgment of prejudices and ideological rigidities.”

“To say that we cannot form thoughts with our current Turkish is to distort the facts and ultimately it is a lack of self-confidence,” Bahçeli said during his parliamentary group meeting, without explicitly mentioning Ünal’s name.

MHP deputy Hidayet Vahapoğlu shared Bahçeli's speech, and said that Bahçeli made Ünal "know his place."

Even AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik said in a tweet that “Our republic and democracy are among our greatest achievements in the great history of our nation. The Republic of Turkey will remain forever.”

The opposition right-wing İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener on Oct. 26 said that “We saw it with the exemplary words that came out of the mouth of a group deputy chair of the AKP. Can't you think in Turkish? It's your capacity problem.”

“For centuries, many of our elders thought in Turkish, wrote in Turkish and spoke Turkish. Read their works. If you have had the slightest ability to think, did the Turkish language stop you? If you tried to open a book and read it, did the alphabet get in your way?” she further said during her party’s parliamentary group meeting.

Taking his place, Özlem Zengin said in a tweet that “I would like to thank Mahir Ünal, our 64th Government Culture and Tourism Minister, Kahramanmaraş Deputy, with whom we have been working for many years, for his services and efforts. In our AKP Group, we will continue to work together to serve our Nation.”

President Erdoğan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) oftenly criticized early Republican policies, even Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of Turkish Republic) without mentioning his name.

For example, Erdoğan on May 28, 2013, said that "The law made by two drunkards is valid, but why should a law ordered by religion be rejected for you?" when talking about alcohol consumption regulations. The opposition at the time said that Erdoğan's remarks were against Atatürk and his aide İsmet İnönü.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz claimed that Erdoğan's ally MHP leader Bahçeli made Ünal resign.

"There is only one reason why Mahir Ünal's words, which were the subject of applause 8 years ago, resulted in asking for resignation today. The AKP is in coalition with the MHP and I think Bahçeli is a powerful element in this coalition," Saymaz said on a live Halk TV program.

Despite Islamists, Turkish nationalists totally embrace the foundation of Republic and its values.

On Oct. 29, 1923, Atatürk officially declared the name of the nation and proclaimed the country's status as a republic.

A vote then took place in the parliament, the Grand National Assembly, and Atatürk was unanimously elected the first president of the Republic of Turkey.