AKP’s Istanbul campaign sinks to new lows

As the campaign for the controversial do-over of the Istanbul mayoral elections heats up, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its supporters are employing a new strategy to discredit the main opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu.

They claim his candidacy is being supported by Turkey’s longtime enemy Greece because Imamoglu is secretly Greek and by extension, Christian. The claim is based on Imamoglu’s roots in Trabzon, a province on the Black Sea ruled in ancient times by Persians and Greeks and known as Pontus.

The parry by the AKP’s deputy chair, Nurettin Canikli, was typical. He said, “The Greeks are saying Ekrem Imamoglu is Greek. There are many questions and doubts. You should prove that your spirit, heart and mind are with the Turkish nation.”

But the AKP’s efforts to stir nationalist passions has had a boomerang effect. Imamoglu was given a hero’s welcome in Trabzon yesterday as a sea of locals flocked to welcome him and hear him speak. The AKP had not reckoned for millions of voters from the region feeling personally affronted by the claims.

Burak Kadercan, associate professor of strategy at the Naval War College, explained their reaction in a tweet. The party had “inadvertently offended an entire region by implying that they might be crypto-Greeks [and] Christians” and Imamoglu seized the opportunity by “turning the AKP’s attack on its head.”