Erdoğan has never been and will never be alone in his struggle to build a New Turkey, and those who want to roll back Turkey's achievements in order to restore Old Turkey are condemned to fail
It is no secret that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the number-one target of a well-orchestrated smear campaign conducted by international media outlets and their like-minded counterparts in Turkey in recent years, intentionally painting a false picture of him and his future projections for the country he has led with an extraordinarily successful track record since the early 2000s. This campaign tries to make people believe that Turkey has taken an authoritarian turn under Erdoğan's leadership, with press freedom silenced and democracy undermined. However, a brief reality check proves to the contrary. Critical media outlets at home continue their relentless and often unfair criticism of Erdoğan using mostly fabricated or distorted articles, like a recent one that twisted the facts about an iftar (fast-breaking) dinner hosted by the president in honor of leading figures from the Presidency of Religious Affairs at the Presidential Palace. The story willfully exaggerated the cost of the dinner, but not long after it became known that the dinner was organized at a highly moderate cost, and the story put into frantic circulation by critical media was nothing but fiction.
Two of the ultimate goals behind this smear campaign are to overshadow Erdoğan's colossal contribution to Turkey's democratic and economic progress over the last decade and to give him a false image of an authoritarian ruler, thus pushing him into isolation, particularly in the eyes of Turkish public, and the international community in general. However, any fair observer should admit that without Erdoğan's strong leadership since 2002 when his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power, Turkey could not have achieved what is widely seen as a silent revolution in democratic and economic development, which was once cited as a model for other countries in and around our region by the same media outlets now running a spin campaign against him. In other words, the democratic and economic success story written by Turkey in the last decade was possible thanks in large part to Erdoğan's leadership skills and his firm bond with the voiceless masses of our country in all their varieties. He has always been at the service of our nation and has become the voice of the voiceless and one of us, a man of the people. That is why he was elected president with a majority of 52 percent in 2014, despite the sophisticated defamation campaign targeting him, and became Turkey's first president directly elected by the people.
Symbolic meaning of the presidential palace
One can easily notice the deluded and designed nature of claims that Turkey has lately taken an undemocratic direction with Erdoğan aspiring for one-man rule. Those claims lack any rational ground and instead adopt a well-known propaganda approach of throw enough dirt and some will stick, to discredit the president. To this end, they mostly use fabricated stories about the building of the new Presidential Palace and its furniture or equipment despite repeated refutations by the Office of the President. The new Presidential Palace was built because there was a strong requirement for it. The old palace, which saw a number of restorations and additions in the past to meet growing needs, was no longer sufficient for presidential demands. The new palace is the property of the Turkish nation, not a personal estate. A country of notable proportions like Turkey deserves such a building that was built using our own resources. It has great symbolic meaning and is a source of pride for our entire nation. Building the new Presidential Palace in Turkey is no concern of outsiders. Also, some media outlets here unfortunately embrace a double-faced and dishonest line of coverage when it comes to the new Presidential Palace, or rather, Presidential Complex, ignoring their past stories that were charged with narratives of glory, kudos and grandeur covering presidential or royal ceremonies, buildings or banquets from abroad and even from Turkey.
What has brought Erdoğan to power is the will of the nation, and he is going to remain in power as long as the nation continues to give him a mandate to serve the country. There is a well-functioning democratic system based on the rule of law in Turkey and nobody can monopolize it or exercise power by turning a blind eye to the national will. Erdoğan believes that Turkey needs a presidential democracy rather than a parliamentary one to guarantee long-term economic and political stability that is key to Turkey's well-being and prosperity in a region that has been plagued by incessant turmoil for years now. This belief does not necessarily mean that he has an authoritarian agenda for the country's future, as there are many countries with presidential democracies around the world. Democracy, the rule of law and the superiority of the national will have always been the "sine qua non" of Erdoğan's political program, and will continue to be so. In fact, the results of recent general elections in Turkey constitute the best answer to those who clamor about Erdoğan's so-called authoritarian trajectory. Disproving all pre-election claims of widespread rigging by the AK Party during the voting, the elections once more showed how strong and mature Turkish democracy is, highlighting the fact that an authoritative drift in Turkey is far from accurate, and those who argue for such a drift are in a state of conscious delusion.
A success story: Acknowledgement of the past
The game-changing success story written by Turkey may be very disruptive for some, but it is in the interest of Turkish people and our region, and from a broad perspective, it is also for the good of the world. On the contrary to what was claimed by The Guardian and The New York Times in separate articles prior to the elections here, it is the right of Turkish people to govern Turkey, and our country is not on a destructive path. They need to see things in a new light rather than being stuck in the narrow viewpoint of so-called realpolitik, and must understand that an unjust world order without respect for universal values is doomed to failure as clearly illustrated by the current state of affairs around the globe. They should have been on the side of democracy when Arab countries rose for dignity, democracy and a decent life, but instead they are now busy legitimizing Egypt's military ruler who ousted the country's first democratically elected president.And Israel, whose press rejoiced at the election results in Turkey, must acknowledge that there will be no secure future for Israel unless it recognizes the Palestinian right to exist, ends its occupation of Palestinian lands and respects international law. Under the delusion that Erdoğan wants to turn Turkey into another Iran in the Middle East, former Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed pleasure with the election results in Turkey, saying: "There is no place for another Iran in the region." What Peres actually tried to say is that they want a region totally dominated and designed by Israel with no country capable of challenging Israel's violation of international law and the rights of the Palestinian people.
It should also be noted here that since the "one minute" incident when then Prime Minister Erdoğan stormed out of a World Economic Forum session on Gaza in Davos in 2009 following a heated debate with then Israeli President Peres slamming Israel's inhumane treatment and oppression of Palestinians with almost total impunity from international law as well as Israel's illegal assault in international waters on the Mavi Marmara in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in 2010, killing nine Turkish activists who were shot in the head at close range by Israeli soldiers, Erdoğan has become the target of unlawful activities by the "parallel structure" to undermine his power and ultimately remove him from office. With its media outlets and by acting like an anti-Turkey lobby abroad, the "parallel structure" plays an important role in the above-mentioned defamation campaign targeting the president. The infamous "parallel structure" is an illegal and clandestine organization disguised with a legal appearance of a civil society organization that has infiltrated some of the most important government institutions and sought to stage a coup in Turkey in 2013 with a seemingly innocent corruption operation conducted by police officers, judges and prosecutors linked to the organization. Enjoying good relations with Israel, this group was also very active during the Gezi Park protests in 2013, and through its followers in the police it made deliberate provocations in tandem with foreign intelligence services to make a gathering that started as a peaceful environmental protest in an attempt to overthrow the government. The "parallel structure" was not able to achieve its goal of ousting the government by way of stirring up the streets and provoking mass protests in 2013, but since then its media outlets use the Gezi Park protests in their campaign to portray a fake image of an authoritarian ruler in Erdoğan, whose main guiding principle is to serve the people relying on the will and support of the Turkish nation.
A grassroots politician with some 40 years' experience in Turkish politics, Erdoğan made his debut onto the political scene with his election in 1994 as the mayor of the Greater Municipality of Istanbul, which was then truly in a mess with widespread and systematic corruption failing to offer basic municipal services. Solving the main problems facing Istanbul, from water shortages and air pollution to waste collection and mega infrastructure investments, including public transportation, he displayed a very adept performance as the mayor with highly prudent management of financial resources. Following the ousting of Turkey's democratically-elected government in 1997 in the post-modern coup, Erdoğan was given a 10-month prison sentence in 1999 for reciting a poem at a meeting. Leaving office, he served four months of the sentence in the same year. The great earthquake and successive economic crises from 1999 to 2001 fully exposed the incompetency of the coalition government then in power. The nation started to look for a way out from the country's predicament. Erdoğan and his companions established the AK Party in 2001 and his considerably successful tenure at the helm of Istanbul paved the way for his future achievements in politics. Under Erdoğan's leadership, the party won a number of elections from 2002 to 2014 with overwhelming electoral support overcoming all unlawful and undemocratic obstacles put before it, and as said above, he became Turkey's first president directly elected by the people, receiving more than half the votes in last year's presidential election.
Nobody can downplay the significant distance Turkey has come in terms of economic and democratic development in the last 13 years. Of course there is still much room for improvement, but an honest observer must first appreciate this progress and Erdoğan's indelible mark on it instead of pontificating about Turkey's direction from afar. Turkey came largely unscathed out of the global economic crisis, which is still negatively affecting Europe, Turkey's biggest trading partner, with a number of countries on the brink of bankruptcy. It has remained an island of stability in a region blighted by political instability, civil strife, sectarian wars, foreign interventions, terrorist attacks and military coups. Erdoğan has successfully steered his country through uncharted and always restless waters. Maybe this is the very reason why some foreign and domestic circles, in a concerted way, target the president with disinformation and defamation campaigns. With the help of Erdoğan's strong leadership, Turkey has gone from strength to strength in the last decade, achieving robust economic growth and proving that Islam and democracy can coexist in a majority Muslim country. No matter what obstacles stand in its way, Turkey, taking the strength it needs from the will of the nation, will continue its journey toward a more prosperous, democratic and stronger future in line with its 2023 vision, the centenary of the Republic. One way or another, Erdoğan and the AK Party will continue to play a vital role in this journey. Erdoğan has never been and will never be alone in his struggle to build a New Turkey, and those who want to roll back Turkey's achievements in order to restore Old Turkey will be condemned to fail. To conclude, I would like to reiterate the words Erdoğan told thousands of people who came to see him off as he entered prison in 1999: "This song doesn't end here."
About the author
* Council of Europe, The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Member of Turkey's National Delegation