A portrait of the ultra-nationalist member of the Turkish Main Opposition: Tanju Ozcan

A portrait of the ultra-nationalist member of the Turkish Main Opposition: Tanju Ozcan
Update: 06 October 2022 02:26
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Rising wave of xenophobia utilized by politicians in Turkey

The small Turkish city of Bolu, located in Central Western Anatolia, has been on the agenda for a while with its mayor. Bolu Mayor Tanju Ozcan, a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), is on the public agenda for his racist rhetoric against Syrian refugees, and his sexist statements. Ozcan had his party membership suspended for one year due to his comments.

Born in Bolu in 1973, Tanju Ozcan worked as a lawyer for many years after graduating from Ankara University, Faculty of Law. Ozcan, who was a CHP deputy in the National Assembly between 2011-2019, won the local elections in 2019 and won the mayorship of the city where he was born.

How did Ozcan appear on the public agenda?

Ozcan, who made an appearance on the public agenda with his blunders, first threatened the shopkeepers who did not provide financial support to Boluspor, the city’s football team in August 2019 by saying he would cause difficulties for them.

For an elderly person who died in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, in September 2020, Ozcan said, “The woman was about to die of natural causes. He was even given intensive treatment in the intensive care unit. Maybe her lifespan has been extended by a few extra days.”

At the local council meeting on November 2, 2020, he addressed a local councilor of the ruling party AKP, referring to an actor known for rape scenes in Turkish movies. "Relax, Mr. Burak. Let me buy you a soda. There is an artist I love very much, Nuri Alco. Let me look like him. Mr. Burak, relax. We didn't put anything in the soda, be comfortable. Friends, don't we have a soda or something sweet? You always offer tea. Nothing will happen, be comfortable,” he said.

The event that brought Ozcan under the limelight was his local regulations for Syrians. There are 4,500 Syrian refugees in the city of 320,000 inhabitants. Ozcan proposed collecting taxes on water and garbage from Syrians that were ten times greater than the current rate. On July 26, 2021, he said, “Whoever is our subscriber as a foreign national, we will increase some of the prices, especially on water, solid waste [tax], by ten times. Turkish citizens and foreign nationals will not use the water at the same price. We will increase the water and solid waste tax prices by ten times.”

The proposal, which was accepted at that time, was annulled by the high court.

In an interview he gave on a YouTube program on August 2021, he again drew the reaction of the public. Ozcan said, “A woman came; I am not having a baby, can you help me? I said ‘Ma'am, how can I help you in that regard (laughs)…’ It turns out that the woman wanted to undergo IVF treatment…”

Ozcan’s words were criticized because of his sexist approach.

In November 2021, Ozcan advocated increasing the cost of documents required for the marriage of two refugees to 100,000 TL ($5400) to make it difficult for the refugees in the city to get married. In a country where the minimum wage was $297, this was intended to prevent marriages.

These practices and statements were subjected to intense criticism from the government, the public, and his own party. Therefore, on January 3, 2022, he was given a warning by the CHP High Disciplinary Board.

Despite this punishment, Ozcan continued his statements and gaffes with his words to a woman who was a member of the local council. While approving an agenda item at the Assembly meeting on May 16, 2022, a female member of the AKP waved, thinking that Ozcan did not see her hand. Ozcan said, "Why are you waving at me, ma'am? It's a shame to wave or something. I'm a married man, and it's a shame."

Continuing his xenophobic and anti-refugee practices on May 18, 2022, Ozcan placed billboards in Turkish and Arabic. The message on the billboard was: "You see the ongoing economic depression in our country. Our youth are unemployed, and families live below the poverty line. Under these conditions, we have no more bread and water to share with you. It's time for you to go as you came. You are no longer wanted; return to your country."

Xenophobic and sexist statements now wore out the patience of his party, and the Republican People's Party's (CHP) High Disciplinary Board suspended the membership of Bolu Mayor Tanju Ozcan for one year on September 26. Ozcan stated that he would appeal the decision and said, “I will go to court. I don't think I deserve any punishment. I can't bear to be apart from this party even for a year.”

Why so Xenophobic?

The mayor of a small city, which is not on the agenda of Turkey, is on the agenda, which surprises many observers.

Some experts argue that Ozcan made these moves to come to the fore, while others say that it is a natural consequence of the xenophobic and sexist mentality that has risen in Turkey.

Yildiray Ogur, one of the influential columnists of the opposition newspaper, Karar, wrote that it is racist to avoid giving water to foreigners.

Ogur stated that the anti-refugee wave is a wave and said, “At least, politicians and opinion leaders should not be trapped the anti-refugee wave of large crowds, they should not use their anger towards the government, they should not surf on those waves.”

Melih Altinok, a columnist for the pro-government newspaper Sabah, who takes a different political position from Ogur, complains of a similar wave. Altinok claims that Ozcan has captured the rising racism in Turkey. Altinok claims that the struggle within the party is also effective in Ozcan's attitude. Although CHP leader Kilicdaroglu eliminated ultra-nationalism within the party, Altinok explains that Ozcan represents the nationalists.

In his statement on April 1, 2022, Ozcan stated that Kilicdaroglu was not close to candidacy and said he could also be a candidate. Many people think that the main reason for his punishment was his attitude against President Kilicdaroglu.

Hate speech towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has increased considerably recently. Many politicians from the right and the left want to put themselves forward by using this discourse. In such an environment, Tanju Ozcan also aims to make political gains by using this. To defend himself, Ozcan said, “I am not a racist or a fascist. I am someone who tries to protect the future of the Turkish nation and its children. I accept allegations of discrimination. Although I do not accept that I have committed the crime of discrimination."

Liberal columnist Nagehan Alci said, “Is the CHP, which calls itself left today, aware that its approach to immigrants is the same as far-right European politicians? Does Tanju Ozcan know that humiliating people because of their ethnic origin is the most fundamental element of racism?” She points out that the issue has spread all over the political spectrum.