It seems like the world is going through a pretty bad time at the moment. We have conflicts, diseases and other nasty things going on in all parts of the world. Putin rules in the style of an old soviet dictator and spreads the fear of a possible third World War. But like this isn’t enough there is a new dictator rising in the east. A man who could make a political career so dramatic it could be the plot of a future bestseller: I’m talking about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan current Prime Minister of Turkey and its future president. He who was once the hero of his homeland, mainly for all the good he brought to the country like the economic rise of Turkey or the development of its infrastructure could now become it’s future tyrant. But how exactly did this happen? Because not only did he a very good job as prime minister he also solved many of Istanbul’s big problems during his time as mayor between 1994-1998. So what led to the recent downfall of this once bright figure of Turkish politics?
For a more or less accurate analysis it is important to know something about the subject: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was born on 26 February 1954 in Istanbul but spend his early childhood in Rize where his father was a member of the Turkish Coast Guard. He returned with his family to Istanbul when he was 13 years old. He received his high school diploma from the Eyüp High School and later studied Business Administration at the Aksaray School of Economics and Commercial Sciences, now known as the Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences. It was during this time that he got engaged in politics by joining the the National Turkish Student Union, an anti-communist action group. It was also during this period more precisely in 1974 that he wrote, directed and played the lead role in the play Maskomya, which presented Freemasonry, Communism and Judaism as evil. He became the head of the Beyoglu youth branch of the Islamist National Salvation Party in 1976. In the same year he became chair of the Istanbul youth branch of the party. He joined the Islamist Welfare Party after the 1980 military coup. Again he became first the party’s Beyoglu district chair in 1984 and then chair of the Istanbul city branch in 1985. He was elected to parliament in 1991, but barred from taking his seat.
He achieved his first big success in politics in 1994 when he was elected mayor of Istanbul in the local elections on 27 March. It is interesting to note that many feared that he would impose Islamic law; however he showed to be very pragmatic in office by taking on such chronic problems in the city as water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos. He succeeded in solving all three of those problems by laying hundreds of kilometers of new pipelines, establishing state-of-the-art recycling facilities, switching to natural gas, introduction of environmentally friendly buses and construction of more than fifty bridges, viaducts, and highways. While doing all this Erdoğan also took precautions to prevent corruption and took measures to ensure that municipal funds were used prudently. He managed to pay back a major portion of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s 2 billion dollar debt while he invested 4 billion in the city. He was also the first to initiate a roundtable of mayors during the Istanbul conference. This led to a global, organized movement of mayors. So far Erdoğan’s story is a story of success but all these major achievements should be followed by a first downfall in 1999.
His party was declared unconstitutional and was shut down by the Turkish constitutional court. Following this event Erdoğan became a constant speaker at the demonstrations held by his party colleagues. He was forced to give up his mayoral position after he was given a ten-month prison sentence for reciting a poem in Siirt in December 1997 which was regarded as an incitement to religious or racial hatred. He served four months of this sentence but the conviction also stipulated a political ban which prevented him from participating in parliamentary elections. In 2001 he established his Justice and Development Party which should quickly become the strongest party in Turkey. The party achieved a landslide victory in the 2002 election by taking nearly 2/3 of the seats. Because of his political ban Erdoğan could not become prime minister right away so a man named Gül became prime minister instead. But in December of the same year the Supreme Election Board canceled the general elections result from Siirt due to voting irregularities and scheduled a new election for 9 February 2003. By this time Erdoğan was able to run for parliament thanks to a legal change made possible by the opposition Republican People’s Party. Now the AK Party listed Erdoğan as a candidate for the rescheduled Siirt election which he won. He then finally became prime minister after Gül subsequently handed over the post.
As prime minister Erdoğan again solved many of Turkey’s problems. He announced for example a plan in 2009 to solve the quarter-century-long Turkey-Kurdistan Workers‘ Party conflict that has cost more than 40,000 lives. He made great efforts in resolving the conflict and even apologized on behalf of the state for the Dersim Massacre (which took place between 1937 and 1938) during a televised meeting of his party in Ankara.
While his handling of the Armenian genocide during the first World War varied from open acknowledgment to open denial it is to note that on 23 April 2014 Erdoğan’s office issued a statement in 9 languages including 2 dialects of Armenian offering condolences for mass killings of Armenians and stated that the events of 1915 had inhumane consequences. This statement was regarded as a brave move for being issued ahead of presidential and general elections which could have caused Erdoğan to lose votes from conservative Turkish voters.
There is much more to tell about Erdoğan’s achievements during his time as prime minister and I have to admit that I personally was very impressed about what I found out during my research. Erdoğan was a very impressive, pragmatic and brilliant politician who did a very good job both during his time as mayor of Istanbul and as prime minister of Turkey. But now I am also left wondering: How can his more recent actions be explained?
2013-2014 saw many protests against the perceived growing authoritarianism of Erdoğan. After the police’s intense reaction with tear gas the protests grew each day that came after. This large amount of mass protests led to Erdoğan making this controversial remark in a televised speech: „The police were there yesterday, they are there today and they will be there tomorrow.“
His more than brutal course of action against the protesters shocked the world and the ban on Twitter and YouTube in 2013 made him seem more and more like a dictator. During his campaign for presidency he announced that he will „change“ Turkey completely by transforming its parliamentary system into a presidential one with a strong president leading the country. Like we know now Erdoğan won in the first round with absolute majority. The future of Turkey is uncertain with Erdoğan possibly becoming a second Putin. But how did this happen? When we look at Erdoğan’s early political career he seemed to be a brilliant politician. He was pragmatic and not dictatorial. So how did he become the „bad guy“?
This is the point where I can only speculate but for me the crucial point is Erdoğan’s incredibly long time in power. He was mayor of Istanbul for 4 years and prime minister for 11,5 years and now he can be president for 10 more years (1 mandate = 5 years)! We learned from the past that power can corrupt a human being and for Erdoğan it seems to me that this is exactly the problem. All his recent actions like the use of police forces to silence critics or the bans of social media are signs that he is afraid. He is afraid of criticism (in fact Erdoğan could never really deal with criticism) and he is afraid that his power is in danger. All these plans of his to change the constitution to give him more power as president? It is all to ensure that his power stays in place! The problem in Turkey is that Erdoğan has so much support that he can do all this without any problem. For the majority of the Turks he is still the man who brought wealth to the country and solved age old conflicts. His support is so big that it wasn’t even a question if he would become president. The national media gave Erdoğan about 533 minutes of transmission time while the other two candidates together couldn’t even make it to 5 minutes! So in a way there is no government in Turkey anymore there is only Erdoğan.
I find it sad that he had to turn into this because like I said earlier I was very impressed about what he did but it seems like he should have remembered that you should know when to stop. I don’t know what he’s exactly going to do now that he is president but I hope for him and for Turkey that he doesn’t turn into a second Putin because we have already enough trouble dealing with the original one.