Barış Terkoğlu

The Sheikh Sait letter I received from Özgür Özel

21 Aralık 2023 Perşembe

Revolutionaries apologize, but revolutions do not. However, for years, they have been trying to make revolutions apologize.

I wrote about the current Sheikh Sait discussion on Monday. CHP leader Özgür Özel was a guest on journalist Candaş Tolga Işık's program. When asked about the Sheikh Sait rebellion, Özel made a speech criticized by many viewers.

In my article, I compiled Sheikh Sait's criticisms mentioned in various writings of Abdullah Öcalan. According to Öcalan, Sheikh Sait was not a British agent, but his rebellion was a UK-backed provocation. The nature of his rebellion was reactionary, he wanted the caliphate. From this perspective, I had said that Özel's assessments of Sheikh Sait were behind Öcalan's. In my opinion, the evaluations of the leader of the party that made the Republic revolution should have been more than leaving the matter to historians.


After my article, I received a letter from Özgür Özel. The letter, which started with "I read your article with notes," continued with "I disagree with and find very hurtful your statement 'one who cannot choose sides between Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Sheikh Sait.'"

Özgür Özel was clear about the issue:

"As an ordinary citizen and as the General President of the Republican People's Party, I am on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's side, and I consider even the thought of the contrary to be an insult. If you can listen to my statements on the TV100 program again, you will see that I clearly underline that I am on the side of the Republic's founding philosophy, its founding cadres, the Republic, and of course Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. I underlined it in that program, and I am underlining it now."

In my article, I questioned Özel's evaluations: "Maybe due to ideological deficiencies, maybe historical ignorance, maybe distance from the founding philosophy, maybe political stance problems, or maybe daily political opportunism, Özgür Özel could not take a side in this discussion."

However, Özel objected to this in his letter:

"What you describe as 'neutrality' clearly has nothing to do with Sheikh Said's personality, his stance, what he did, nor is it related to the ideological deficiencies or historical ignorance you mention in your article. It is clear that removing the historical discussions about the early years of the Republic from their context leaves new pains in those left behind and does not benefit the founding philosophy or founding cadres of the Republic. As legitimate a right as it was to suppress the Sheikh Said Rebellion against the Republic in 1925 and to end it with execution under the conditions of the time, it is also a legitimate right for the grandchildren of Sheikh Said to ask where their grandfather's grave is."

In the conclusion of his letter, Özgür Özel, citing his personal history, emphasized that my assessment was unjust:

"As I stated at the beginning, I am on the side of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as the General President of the Republican People's Party. My years of politics, the attitude I have taken at crossroads, my rebellion against the interference of congregations and sects in education, their infiltration into the state and the army, and my stance against the judicial structuring of these groups and their plots are evident. As a journalist who closely observes me and my stance, it saddened and made me think deeply that you wrote such an article."

The letter ended with: "I salute you with all my respect for freedom of thought and press freedom."

This is the entire letter I received from Özgür Özel...


Leaders often move around with their approving army. Our job, however, requires being critical. Naturally, I find this discussion beneficial and corrective.

The warning is not baseless. Religiously centered and ethnically based reactionism have a common aspect. They both target the Republican revolution. Whatever the discussion is, the problem is sought in the Republic. In the end, they try to make the revolution apologize.

Do not think that only a matter of the past is being discussed. Reactionism makes the past a lever to transform today. From gender equality to constitutional citizenship, from secularism to national sovereignty, it sees all its accounts concerning today through the audit of the past.

In recent years, the founding party of the Republic, whose distance from the founding philosophy has been debated, gets trapped in this pitfall while prioritizing daily politics. Therefore, in geography where blood flows with religious or sectarian wars, it is still the philosophy of the Republic that is discussed, not religious or ethnic ideologies.

AKP, MHP, IYI or DEM Party... Any party in Turkey can come to power with the votes they receive. Yet, they always lack something: the characteristic of being the founding party. Even if CHP never comes to power, it has the originality of being the founding party. Both the policies of the government and its own mistakes make this situation appear as a burden. However, in confronting the 20th-century problems we face in the 21st century, the "identity of the founding party" creates opportunities for CHP. If only it could overcome the shyness of defending the Republic's revolutions.

Years ago, we met with Özgür Özel in prison. To his credit, he was the most consistent visitor to the prison we stayed in. We were in the same place.

Today, he is not only a CHP deputy but also the party's general president. If you ask me, the phrase he used when entering the Sheikh Sait issue, "We respect the Republic, its founding cadres, founding fathers," which we often hear from leaders who usually have issues with the Republic, describes the mood of the founding party. Because neither the Republic nor its founders are ex-lovers to whom CHP should pay distant respect. On the contrary, it is a continuity story of "both the Republic and its founder are us." Hence, at least in terms of mood, today we are in different places with Özgür Özel.

We think revolutions are carried outside of history. However, they are nothing but the accumulated actions of those who run faster than time.

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