I have to say that the title reflects only a part of the truth, not the whole. Because I cannot imagine that the image that President Tayyip Erdoğan gave in New York made all the voters in Turkey admire and proud of him once again. Not even all the voters of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). But Erdoğan may have reinforced the admiration and loyalty of the two electoral groups within the AKP in New York where he was for the UN General Assembly meetings on September 19-21.
The first group is Erdoğan loyalists, either personally or because they are pious Muslims. When the pro-government press writes that the new building of the 36-story Turkish House, which Erdoğan has inaugurated on September 20 is a “skyscraper erected in the heart of the West”, they believe it. They believe it without even thinking that New York is the city of skyscrapers and the 102-story Empire State, constructed in 1931 is only 4 blocks away from the Turkish house. And there are many buildings taller than the Turkish House in many Turkish cities as well. They are proud that Turkey’s Religious Affairs Director Ali Erbaş recited an inauguration prayer, from the Quran as a message to the universe. When Erdoğan says the Taliban in Afghanistan and Turks share the same culture, they believe it. When the imam of the Taqwa Masjid in Brooklyn, Siraj Wahhaj said he believed Erdoğan is the leader of all Muslims in the World, when he was given the podium to talk right before the President, they believe it, leaving you speechless.
Brotherhood of religion or of interest?
The second group is those who got rich and richer under Erdoğan’s AKP rule; those who look after their financial interests under the guise of conservatism. I’m not just talking about a few big companies in construction, energy, and tourism. Except for a few of them that shined with Erdoğan, the others were also a favorite of the former right-wing governments, to whom they provided lifeline before Erdoğan. It had taken a few weeks for them to return to Erdoğan. It will take less time for them to return to another power tomorrow.
They are the same people who bought chairs at the investor dinner for tens of thousands of dollars just to be seen by Erdoğan. Not to applause Erdoğan for listening to his address in New York; with the same messages that they must have heard a thousand times before; the purpose is to have their names on the list of attendees if and Erdoğan wanted to learn about it.
But there are little ones as well. For example, the Birgün newspaper wrote about one Ömer Faruk Akbulut. Akbulut, who is still one of the AK Party members of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Council and an executive member of the TÜGVA foundation under the control of Bilal Erdoğan, son of the President) won 260 tenders in 7 years before the Ekrem İmamoğlu era. Who would like to see such a scheme disrupted?
Therefore, Erdoğan’s propaganda by Turks to Turks in New York can be considered to be mostly aimed at influencing these two groups, to keep them at bay for the next elections.
The message is clear: what will happen to you if I go?
However, this is also an illusion.
Trying to cover the outlook with pomp
The bigger ones in the brotherhood of profits and interests could easily turn their backs on Erdoğan, as they did to former power holders, and whine about how they suffered Erdoğan as they join the chorus of “Long live the King” to the new one with all their hypocrisy. Maybe a few of them will be sent to the corner to stand on one foot as scapegoats. Perhaps those who are happy now with their share of the pie -but have relatively solid links with the grassroots, like Akbulut, mentioned above- may not get away with it, that’s all.
It doesn’t take long for the religious brotherhood group to find new protectors and find new ways of power. That has always been like that for the political Islamists in Turkey. I think everyone has learned their lesson from the headscarf issue, so I don’t think that will be a major problem if Erdoğan leaves power.
But Bülent Arınç, who was one of the members of the triumvirate with Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül when they founded the AKP in 2001 reminded well the other night on TV5 That religious masses also have a livelihood problem. The cost of living in Turkey and the growing gap between rich and poor is beyond the rather pinky estimates of the IMF and the World Bank experts. He said that it was a pocket crisis that paved the way for their AKP to power in 2002 it could be another pocket crisis and to end it.
For propaganda teams of Erdoğan the pompous black limousine convoys swinging slowly on streets of New York with motorcades, flags and all, under the pedestrians “What the hell?” looks is something good, something to be esteemed at, a show of dignity. Like all those expensive Presidential compounds and summer residences, winter residences, unnecessarily large and pompous government offices back in Turkey. In New York, Erdoğan displayed a propaganda image towards AKP supporters in domestic politics rather than focusing on international politics.
Don’t ask how far. They see it that way because they have a vested interest in seeing and saying it that way.
Delivering a keynote speech at the posh Gala Dinner thrown by the Turkish-American Business Council (TAIK) on September 20, Erdoğan emphasized that they are in “full agreement” with US President Joe Biden to improve relations between Turkey and the USA.
Who is misleading the Turkish President?
No, I will not say that Erdoğan leaves the US without having a face-to-face meeting opportunity with Biden. He didn’t have an appointment with Biden when he left İstanbul for New York anyway. without meeting with Biden. But Erdoğan’s diplomacy team was almost sure that Biden was not going to meet bilaterally with any other leader; that was a sort of a relief. That relief was until it was revealed by the White House that Biden was going to meet the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in New York and British PM Boris Johnson in Washington after delivering his speech in the UNGA. Meanwhile, it was understood that Erdoğan did not have a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kriyakos Mitsotakis, as Erdoğan said in the press conference while leaving Istanbul that they would meet upon the demand of Mitsotakis. The Greek PM was in Athens and he was meeting with someone who is not the apple of the eye for Erdoğan: Istanbul’s opposition CHP member mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. I wonder who is giving such unconfirmed information to the President, putting him in such unnecessarily weird situations?
As a result, the image presented by Erdoğan in New York has been rather limited to the message of his recently published book, “A Fairer World is Possible”. In Istanbul, he had shown copies of his book in Turkish, English, French, and Arabic to the press and said he would present a copy to each leader that he was to meet in the premises of the UNGA. The message of the book is not new though: “The world is bigger than five.
Promoting his new book
This message was conveyed also to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who was sitting there with a “Where am I?” kind of look on his face, at the inauguration ceremony of the Turkish House as Erbaş was reciting Quran; he had a copy of the book. So did the British PM Johnson who visited the Turkish House, hosting Turkey’s Permanent UN Representation, right across the UN Headquarters. But Johnson is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that has been targeted by Erdoğan as imposing hegemony on other countries. By the way, I agree with the slogan “the world is bigger than five” perhaps not the way that Erdoğan says it. But will Johnson read the book? Will he get Erdoğan’s message, regret and do the right thing? I would not bet on it. But Johnson, as a seasoned and shrewd politician, might have replied, “Convince the others, I won’t make trouble”; the others being the USA, Russia, China, and France.
Almost all the meetings and programs Erdoğan has attended in New York, he promoted his book published by Turkuvaz, the brand of Sabah Publishing Group, run by Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak who left Treasury and Finance Ministry in November 2020 after being put on target by the Turkish opposition because of ruining the economy. In the meantime, Emine Erdoğan’s book “Afrika Travels” was also published by Turkuvaz publications. Presumably, the First Lady wrote about her African trips, which she went on her own means, not as the wife of the President. I’m going to buy and read it right away.