A number of kebab shop owners in Turkey have criticized remarks from a far-right party leader who accused them of separatism and responsibility for unemployment in the country, saying it is now their turn to be labeled as terrorists.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, raised eyebrows when he accused kebab shop owners of contributing to the unemployment problem in the country.
He made the controversial remarks, which quickly went viral on social media, during a party meeting on Tuesday. In his speech Bahçeli criticized people who complain about rising consumer prices and unemployment and accused them of attempting to weaken the government.
“It is our duty to remind those who abuse the efforts of our people to make a living of the painful cost of terrorism. The separatist kebab sellers who aid and abet terrorism play a role in the unemployment [level in the country],” Bahçeli said, apparently referring to Kurdish kebab shop owners whom he accused of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.
“We are shocked. We provide jobs for thousands of people. It looks like it’s now our turn to be labeled as terrorists,” said Şefik Arslan, head of the Adana Chamber of Kebab Shop Owners in a statement to RS FM on Tuesday evening.
Arslan said kebab shop owners are having difficulty understanding Bahçeli’s accusations against them and said it would have been nice if he had elaborated on his remarks.
“There are many shop owners who employ as many people as a factory. We’re always looking for staff, we can’t understand how on earth we have a role in unemployment. The only thing we understand is that economy management is not Bahçeli’s strong point,” Arslan said.
It is very frequent in Turkey for Erdoğan and Bahçeli to label groups of people who criticize their policies or don’t promote the government as terrorists, a move seen by critics as a growing attempt to reinforce Erdoğan’s authoritarian governance. Students who protested the appointment of a pro-government rector to their university, anti-war protestors who opposed a Turkish military operation in the Syrian town of Afrin and jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş have all been labeled as terrorists by Erdoğan.
Arslan recalled that produce sellers were described as terrorists by Erdoğan when the price of these vegetables skyrocketed a few years ago and said it was now their turn to be called terrorists.
In the meantime, a kebab chef took to the podium during the opposition İYİ (Good) Party’s group meeting on Wednesday to counter Bahçeli’s accusations
İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener said someone new is deemed a terrorist every week by the Public Alliance, namely Bahçeli and Erdoğan, and invited İbrahim Çetinkaya, a kebab chef to the podium to express his feelings about Bahçeli’s remarks.
“We are the people who set Abraham’s table. We can’t be terrorist or separatists,” Çetinkaya said.
He also noted that kebab sellers had suffered during the pandemic, adding that the government should be supporting businesses instead of directing false accusations at the owners.
There is growing criticism of the government over people’s financial difficulties, which have worsened during the pandemic and with the continuing depreciation of the Turkish lira.