A few weeks ago two of Turkey’s most popular soccer teams, Galatasaray and
Fenerbahçe, met for the last game of the season in Istanbul. It would determine
the league champion, and given the everlasting rivalry between two teams,
Fenerbahçe supporters weren’t happy with Galatasaray taking the lead. So a
brouhaha began. Players rushed to their locker rooms waiting for the crowd to
calm down. But then another problem emerged: Turkey’s Soccer Federation wanted
to hand the championship cup to Galatasaray in their locker room, yet the team
objected to this attempt. It became obvious that someone charismatic and
experienced in conflict resolution was needed to overcome this crisis.
executive of Galatasaray eventually delivered the message: “‘Beyefendi’ says
that the cup should be handed on the field.”
translated as “gentleman,” is an honorific used after a man’s first name.
However, “Beyefendi” no longer needs a name attached to it since pretty much
everybody knows who it is referring to: Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan. Even his staff refers to Erdogan as just “Beyefendi,” including the
ministers of his cabinet and media members.
“Beyefendi” is regularly
called upon for even the most minor detail, such as the handing out of the
championship cup. In a speech last week, Erdogan openly admitted that he is
“responsible for anything in his country, since he is the prime
Not a day passes without Erdogan sparking a public debate out
of the blue.
When he detests a statue, calling it “monstrous,” they tear
it down. The local municipality removes al fresco dining tables when Erdogan
expresses his discontent with sidewalk diners. Just recently a couple of
fictional characters in a television series had to get married when Erdogan’s
administration expressed its concerns about the show promoting bachelorhood.
Another character in another show proposed to his longtime girlfriend; a wedding
scene is expected to wrap up the season finale.
Erdogan’s favorite target
is the media.
Any journalist who is overtly critical of him faces
termination and is unable to work anywhere else. Since 2007, Turkey’s leading
daily newspaper Hürriyet alone had to fire seven dissident columnists and demote
Just recently a pro-government paper fired its
Washington correspondent in order not to upset “Beyefendi” should he have read
his column. One of Erdogan’s aides stated that he hadn’t.
Even The Wall
Street Journal suffered from Erdogan’s wrath when they printed a story on the
Uludere massacre, a botched military air strike that resulted in the deaths of
34 innocent civilians.
When the Journal uncovered that the intelligence
that led to the strike came from the Pentagon, Erdogan furiously claimed that
the paper was motivated by its anti-Obama agenda. He also managed to squeeze in
a conspiracy theory involving “the Jewish lobby”; his all-time favorite imagined
The massacre in Uludere raised questions in the media about the
military’s operations against the Kurdish minority who held Erdogan’s Justice
and Development (AK) Party government responsible.
The Turkish Interior
Minister Idris Naim Sahin argued that no apology was necessary while denouncing
the victims as “extras” of Kurdish separatist organization PKK. Turning a deaf
ear to the critics Erdogan successfully managed to change the
Creating a false equivalency between deaths of innocent civilians
and abortions up to 10 weeks from conception which have been legal in Turkey
since 1982, he declared “each abortion is one Uludere.” He also argued that
increasing C-section births are part of a conspiracy to halt Turkey’s population
growth! Turkey, in its entire history, including the past decade under Erdogan,
never had an abortion debate. It was not until Erdogan’s latest remarks that
other members of his cabinet publicly denounced pro-choice
“Victims of rape should not refrain from giving birth” Health
Minister Recep Akdag said. “The state will raise their babies.”
ministry is now drafting a new law to ban abortion after four weeks of
pregnancy, a limit which medical experts determine to be outrageous. However,
when “Beyefendi” leads, his party’s lawmakers are sure to follow.
latest remarks about abortion resulted in outrage among urban voters and
mainstream media but the criticism does not hurt Erdogan’s popularity a
All the polls suggest that Erdogan’s popularity continues to rise.
Covering AK Party’s stadium rally in Istanbul two weeks ago, Asli Aydintasbas of
daily Milliyet warned that his party relies only on “cult of personality” rather
than any political ideology. After the same rally another columnist compared
Erdogan’s appearance and propaganda methods to ‘30s’ Europe. Many political
analysts suggest that Erdogan is heading towards creating a new office of
presidency, preparing to endow this post with greater powers and the stadium
rally was just a “rehearsal.”
With his strong popularity and charismatic
leadership it appears that Erdogan can take the country to any direction as he
pleases. He is currently unchallenged in Turkey’s political sphere as the
opposition parties continue to shrink. Therefore he is likely to be the Turkey’s
first popularly elected president. But the “Beyefendi’s presidency will probably
be less likely to resemble the American presidency, with its built-in checks and
balances, then the ‘Turkmenbashi,” the dictator of Turkmenistan.
writer is a columnist at The Turkish newspaper Aksam daily.