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AKP deputy group chair resigns over far-right leader’s criticism of his controversial remarks on republic

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A top Justice and Development Party (AKP) official has announced his resignation as the party’s deputy group chairman after controversial remarks he made about the republic drew criticism from Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), local media reported on Monday.

“As of today, I have requested to be excused from my position as deputy group chairman,” Mahir Ünal said in a tweet on Monday, thanking president and AKP chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for entrusting him with the responsibility.

Ünal’s resignation came shortly after MHP leader Bahçeli, an election ally of Erdoğan, criticized his controversial remarks on the republic.

“The republic has destroyed our vocabulary, alphabet, language, in short, our mindset,” Ünal said in a speech during a public event in Turkey’s eastern province of Kahramanmaraş on Oct. 21.

He was referring to the language revolution Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, started after the establishment of the republic. The process included discarding the Ottoman Turkish alphabet and replacing it with the Latin alphabet, replacing foreign loan words with “pure” Turkish words and doing away with foreign grammar constructions. Ottoman Turkish became a dead language through this process and in its place modern Turkish was born. It is this Turkish that the citizens of the Republic of Turkey speak today.

Bahçeli slammed Ünal’s comments on the republic during a group meeting of his party on Oct. 25, where he said arguing that Turks can’t form thoughts with current Turkish was “distorting the facts, defaming the language, against objective developments” and a sign of a “lack of self-confidence.”

“… The Republic is not the antithesis of our honorable past. Those who claim that the republic has damaged Turkish culture, Turkish language and our mindset are in the grip of an unfortunate, indescribable and baseless mistake,” the MHP leader added.

Emrah Gülsunar, an academic and political scientist, said in a tweet on Monday that what’s “interesting” about Ünal’s resignation was that it was triggered by the “standard criticism of Kemalist modernization that Islamists have been expressing for years.”

“The fact that one of the AKP [members] was forced to resign for this reason shows the power of the nationalists in the alliance,” Gülsunar noted.

Since Erdoğan formed an electoral alliance with the nationalists in 2018 to secure his political rule, he has progressively lost control over Turkey’s state apparatus, and his Islamist-rooted AKP no longer wields sufficient power to resist Turkey’s traditional secularist-ultranationalist bureaucracy.

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