ANKARA – Defying predictions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a resounding victory in the first round of elections, falling just short of a majority. It is widely expected that he will triumph in the upcoming second round on May 28 and retain his hold on power.
Erdogan has been at the helm of Turkey for two decades now, and in recent years, particularly following a failed coup attempt in July 2018, he has adopted an uncompromising stance towards opposition and dissenting voices.
His actions have included the imprisonment of journalists, purging of civil society, judicial reforms, educational system restructuring, and military interventions. Coupled with his nationalist rhetoric and aspirations of revitalizing the Ottoman Empire, these measures have mobilized his loyal supporters.
Erdogan’s suppression of intellectuals and artists, along with his confrontational approach towards the European Union and the West, has only served to consolidate his authority. Many perceive him as an indispensable geopolitical ally.
In a notable piece, New York Times correspondent Jason Farago elucidated the factors that sustain Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, suggesting that he may be on the path to becoming a President for life while ruthlessly quelling any opposition.
Erdogan has also stoked tensions with Greece through F-16 fighter jet incursions, dispatching energy research vessels and warships near Greek islands, and issuing threats of invasion. He went as far as declaring that Greece expanding its maritime boundaries to 12 nautical miles would be grounds for war.
This aggressive stance subsided temporarily following a devastating earthquake that claimed numerous lives. The disaster exposed widespread corruption and cronyism in the construction industry, resulting in the collapse of substandard buildings.
Surprisingly, a degree of reconciliation has emerged, which endures even after a tragic head-on train collision in Greece that claimed 57 lives. Turkey expressed condolences and gratitude for the assistance provided by Greek recovery teams.
However, with the first round of Greek elections delivering a strong endorsement for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his New Democracy party, and a caretaker government taking over before the second ballot on June 25, where Mitsotakis is expected to prevail, the dynamics could shift.
Erdogan stands ready to reclaim his position of power and may once again pursue his “Blue Homeland” vision, laying claim to Greek territories and maritime areas, thereby pitting himself against Mitsotakis’ “Blue Wave” and its anticipated single-party rule.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies Erdogan’s ability to evoke a sense of a bygone era, specifically the year 1453 when Constantinople fell, more than his transformation of the emblematic Hagia Sophia, a symbol of power and Christianity, into a mosque.
IT’S 1453 ALL OVER AGAIN
In that location, the call to prayer has also transformed into a tribute to Erdogan’s style of Sultanism, propelled by a revived sense of Islamism and nationalism, departing from the secular principles upheld by the modern Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
The Times highlighted how, just before the initial round of elections, which was expected to pose a significant challenge to Erdogan’s firm grip on power, he visited Hagia Sophia for evening prayers, aiming to remind voters of his accomplishments.
“Hagia Sophia represents the pinnacle of that neo-Ottomanist aspiration,” stated Edhem Eldem, a History Professor at Istanbul’s Bogazici University. “It essentially distorts political and ideological conflicts, debates, and differing perspectives into a realm of a highly simplistic understanding of history and the past.”
Erdogan has even turned to low-quality television shows to promote Turkish culture, both domestically and internationally. Turkish movies and TV series, available on platforms like Netflix, often romanticize the country’s history, including its struggles against the Western powers.
“Mr. Erdogan has redirected Turkey’s national culture, fostering a nostalgic revival of the Ottoman legacy—sometimes in a grandiose manner, other times bordering on kitsch,” emphasized the article.
“Television, music, monuments, and memorials have all played crucial roles in a political endeavor, a campaign centered on cultural resentment and national rebirth, culminating in May beneath the dome of Hagia Sophia’s blue-green carpets,” the piece further elaborated.
“This election suggests that nationalism, rather than religion, may be the true impetus behind Mr. Erdogan’s cultural revolution. His celebrations of the Ottoman past—and the animosity towards those who oppose it, whether from the West or within Turkey—have been intertwined with nationalist endeavors unrelated to Islam,” it added.
Critics argue that dissenting voices have been silenced, either through coercion or self-censorship, leading journalists, writers, and artists to seek exile, all while the European Union, Turkey’s aspirational destination since 2005, remains relatively silent.
“The new Turkish nationalism carries a distinct cultural character: proudly Islamic, often confrontational, and occasionally tinged with paranoia,” observed The Times, characteristics that some may argue reflect Erdogan’s own persona.
If, as anticipated, Erdogan secures another resounding victory and solidifies his near-absolute authority, he will be in an even stronger position to fulfill his vision of a Turkish Century and extend his rule into a third decade.
“In essence, what the naive Turkish nationalist, particularly the neo-Ottomanist nationalist, desires,” explained Eldem, “is to unite the concept of a glorious empire that would have been benevolent. However, such a notion does not exist. An empire is an empire.”