The political portrait of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for western intellectuals

Published 22.04.2017 01:57

There can be little doubt that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the most renowned world leaders today, and with the recent referendum going in favor of a proposed presidential system, he has received widespread media coverage worldwide and particularly in Europe.

It was necessary, however, to examine the German press separately, since Turkey's referendum appeared to have attracted significant attention from the country's media.

Going over the news articles and columns on Turkey's referendum, I was astonished by the scale of misinformation and disinformation in the Western media. Yet it is well known that Westerners are rationally inclined to change their ideas and sentiments as soon as they understand that they were misinformed about the matter in question.

As if speaking with a single voice, the international media outlets generally paint a picture of President Erdoğan as an "anti-democrat." Pushing the rational limits of argument and overlooking his political career that solely relied on democratic elections; they could even declare him a "dictator." Such negative reconstruction of Erdoğan's political image is, however, a clear distortion of truth.Involved in politics since his youth, Erdoğan embarked on his journey in Turkish politics with the National Salvation Party (MSP) and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi).

In his thirties, Erdoğan became the provincial head of his political party in Istanbul. In municipal elections for the cosmopolitan district of Beyoğlu, Erdoğan succeeded in raising the votes of his political party from 5 percent to 22 percent, and thus signaled the potential of his political leadership.

I have had the opportunity to know President Erdoğan personally since I got into university in 1986. I was volunteering in a youth organization that was politically close to the Welfare Party. We were visiting Erdoğan, as a brilliant young politician in Istanbul, and invited him to our university for a lecture on Turkish politics.

As the Istanbul provincial head of his political party, Erdoğan's leadership drew attention through his constructive communication with almost all segments of society. In fact, heads of other provinces imitated his political methods and innovations in urban politics.

Erdoğan was one of the leading political figures of the time who had faith in democratic processes. During the 1980s and 1990s, Islamist movements were on a political high. Although some of those political groups operated through anti-democratic channels, Erdoğan preferred to continue his political career in the Welfare Party together with its founder Necmettin Erbakan. Despite many leftist and Islamist political groups working through the normal democratic channels of politics and yielding to the established system of oppression, Erdoğan insisted on pursuing his democratic attitude within the Welfare Party.

When Erdoğan became a candidate for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipal elections in 1994, no one thought that he could win the elections. But, leaving liberal rightist and leftist candidates behind, Erdoğan won the elections as the surprise political figure. Back then, Istanbul as a city was in lamentable conditions. The city's water was not potable, the garbage was not being collected properly, and air heavily polluted. In fact, Istanbul was, at that time, one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Erdoğan, not discriminating against any district of the city, brought equal services to each and every corner of Istanbul. Establishing a positive dialogue with various segments of society, Erdoğan rapidly turned Istanbul into a manageable and livable modern city. In fact, in one of his conversations with Üzeyir Garih, a member of one of Istanbul's deeply rooted Jewish families, Erdoğan received advice on urban management, which would only be successful if he succeeded in managing Istanbul's financial resources.

What's more, during his time at the metropolitan municipality, Istanbul became one of the leading academic and intellectual centers of the world. While he conducted various cultural activities, Erdoğan had the chance to meet with the world's leading political figures.

While Erdoğan was emerging as a promising political leader, his rivals plotted their first political attack, an illegal but short imprisonment, solely for reciting a poem to the people. Their rivals, however, had already predicted that he would soon become Turkey's leader.

After the Welfare Party was closed down, Erdoğan and his friends established a new political party, which became a candidate for the state's political leadership in the turbulent years after the military intervention of Feb. 28.

In the first year of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Erdoğan rapidly rose to power by receiving some 34 percent of the votes. As he was, at that time, a banned politician, he could have been elected later as a member of Parliament from a small province.

From the very beginning of his political career up until today, Erdoğan has always believed in democratic processes, fought against anti-democratic forces, defeated long-standing military tutelage, and re-established popular sovereignty. Coming to the center from the periphery, Erdoğan has led the people to democratic triumphs, realizing successive reforms in economy and human rights. Meanwhile, the AK Party has significantly improved Turkey's standards of democracy and economy.

Erdoğan, whose political career has solely depended on democratic processes, was blamed as a "dictator," first by illegal political organizations which were slaughtering civilians, and who were thus themselves were oppressive.

Today, similar accusations are being expressed in the European media. It is, therefore, our duty to remind Turkey's friends abroad about Erdoğan's political journey on the path of democracy.

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