The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, walked more than 250 miles in the summer heat this past June to make a statement about the state of justice, or lack thereof, under Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now Kilicdaroglu’s party, the CHP, have been marching for a more humble cause: hazelnuts, more specifically, hazelnut farmers. 3000 people gathered for the CHP-led hazelnut march, to protest the official price for hazelnuts set by the Turkish Food, Agriculture, and Livestock Ministry.
It may seem like a strange cause to take up after campaigning for a grand ideal like justice, but both moves are part of the CHP’s recent shifts toward more a humble, grassroots-centered political strategy.
Turkey supplies about 75% of the world’s hazelnuts, which are one of the main ingredients in popular treats like Nutella. The industry directly or indirectly employs about 4 million people and hazelnut exports bring in more than $2 billion to the country each year. Despite the crop’s value, hazelnut farmers are barely scraping by. Prices paid to farmers for the crop have fallen in recent years and barely cover the costs of harvesting the nuts.
One of the primary reasons farmers are unable to get a fair price for hazlenuts is that one company has almost a complete monopoly on the crop’s export. Ferrero, maker of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, has been acquiring hazelnut suppliers around the world, including the largest exporter of Turkish hazelnuts, the Oltan group. Hazelnut processors in Turkey have complained that Ferrero pays less for hazelnuts than other companies, but there are often few other options for sellers, since Nutella alone consumes a quarter of the world’s supply of the crop.
The CHP has often been criticized for its inability to connect with Turks outside its secular and urban base. Even though around 50% of Turks does not support the current government, no party or group of parties has been able to mount a successful, united opposition since the AKP came to power in 2002. With campaigns like the hazelnut march, however, the CHP finally appears to be reaching out beyond its base, to a wider audience.
This is a savvy political strategy for the CHP. According to a former strategist for the nationalist party, the MHP, Murat Yildiz, through these kinds of campaigns, the CHP is becoming “the voice of the silent and voiceless majority in Turkey.” The MHP itself has aligned with the ruling AKP government, while the country’s other important opposition group, the Kurdish-based HDP, has been completely decimated by politically-motivated arrests. “Voters for other parties feel voiceless,” Yildiz told Muftah, “no one else is taking up the cause of workers and teachers, or fighting for justice or press freedom.”
James Ryan, a PhD candidate studying Turkish history at the University of Pennsylvania, believes a political strategy centered around exploiting the weaknesses in the AKP’s policies, especially the effects of economic deregulation, could be successful in the long term. “I don’t see the CHP, or any opposition party, having much electoral success in the short or medium term,” Ryan told Muftah, “If the CHP can make a show of solidarity with people feeling economic pain, and can get back to the basics of fighting for better labor representation (trying to undo the bad effects of market deregulation), then they might be able to start making social improvements, even without any electoral or legislative victories. And, in the long run, those social improvements could cement political bases for electoral victories if/when the AKP and Erdoğan leave power.”
The AKP seems to understand the threat these new CHP strategies potentially pose. The pro-government paper, the Daily Sabah, ran an unusually positive story about the hazelnut march, which indicates that they felt this was not something they could spin negatively to their base. There were rumors and signs that Kilicdaroglu would be arrested this summer. The fact that Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, is still a free man is another sign the party’s recent actions are popular among Turkish voters. “The AKP bases many of their policy moves on polling, and recent polling showed that arresting Kilicdaroglu would backfire. A large percentage of AKP voters would not support arresting him,” Yildiz told Muftah.
Turkey’s current political climate is desperate, but seemingly small events like the hazelnut march provide glimmers of hope for the country’s disenfranchised population.