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Did Ataturk and the Taliban fight for the same thing? This politician believes so

Fringe political figure Dogu Perincek has drawn parallels between the foundation of the Turkish republic and the fight against 'US imperialism' in Afghanistan
Turkish politician Dogu Perincek, then a member of the left-wing Turkish Workers' Party, smiles as he sits in the European Court of Human Rights in the French city of Strasbourg on 15 October 2015 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

A politician in Turkey compared the Taliban movement's recent takeover of power in Afghanistan to the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in televised remarks on Tuesday night.

Dogu Perincek, the chairman of the Patriotic Party, a nationalist movement allied with the ruling AKP party, said that people should stop despising the Taliban based on preconceived notions.

“The Afghan nation has waged a war for the past 20 years against the US under the leadership of the Taliban,” he said. “The Taliban have beaten US imperialism. The Taliban were successful in Afghanistan’s war of independence, like Mustafa Kemal Pasha did in Turkey.”

Perincek added that Afghanistan couldn’t produce an Ataturk, but a Taliban due to the country's history and culture.

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The comparison raised eyebrows, as Ataturk’s staunch belief in secularism led to in-depth reforms of clothing, religion, alphabet and women's rights in Turkey in the early 20th century.

The Taliban - who controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when the United States invaded the country in the wake of 9/11 - have meanwhile vowed to govern under their interpretation of Islamic law.

For Perincek, the Taliban’s victory was a sign that regional actors who put their trust in the US are bound to lose. “The US lost in Egypt, couldn’t topple Bashar al-Assad in Syria and couldn’t push back against Iran. It couldn’t divide Turkey,” he said - the latter possibly in reference to a 2016 attempted coup blamed on a US-based cleric.

Perincek’s remarks have drawn strong criticism on social media. "Taliban are murderers of women and children," Cemal Enginyurt, a former MP from the Democrat Party, wrote. “They are zealots and blood-stained hitmen. They are the enemies of humanity and civilisation.”

Citizen journalist Ozan Balik meanwhile pointed out that the Taliban most likely wouldn’t allow Perincek to establish a party in Afghanistan. “[Perincek]’s solution [could have been] in Afghanistan after he was left below the electoral threshold [in Turkey],” he wrote sarcastically. 

Perincek is a former Maoist and known for his controversial pro-China views. His party and its affiliated media outlets, newspaper Aydinlik and Ulusal TV, have rationalised China's ill-treatment of the Uighur minority, and called for stronger cooperation with Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Russia and Iran.

Even though the Patriotic Party received less than 0.20 percent of votes in 2019 local elections, its small but well-organised following within the army and the judiciary have turned it into a strategic player in the current political sphere.

The party gained influence after the July 2016 coup attempt, blamed on exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Despite Gulen rejecting the accusations, the government President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed Gulen followers from state jobs en masse.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meanwhile welcomed as “positive” Taliban statements on Tuesday, after the group promised to protect foreign embassies and issued a general amnesty for state employees.

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