The man who could recharge the machine called Erdoğan & Co. (or push it over the cliff) is the president’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
In the country he has ruled since 2002, 80% of the minorities cannot openly express themselves on social media, and a good 35% say they are subjected to hate speech on the same platform. His top ulama [Islamic scholars] once issued a fatwa that read: “… a father kissing his daughter with lust or caressing her with desire has no effect on the man’s marriage”.
Between August 2014, when he was elected president of Turkey, and April 2016 he sued at least 1,845 people for insulting him, thereby winning the title of “the world’s most insulted president”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once accused Western Europe of “intolerance that spreads like the plague,” and described Belarus, which Western countries describe as a dictatorship, as “a country in which people with different roots live in peace”.
In December 2016, Alperen, an often violent youth group who enthusiastically support Erdoğan, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Turkey by holding a man dressed as Santa Claus at gunpoint. A headline in an Islamist newspaper (also pro-Erdoğan) read, “This is our last warning, DO NOT celebrate.”
In 2017, Erdoğan’s law enforcement authorities arrested and indicted a liberal group for terrorism whereas the group had only carried a placard that read: “Let Nuriye and Semih live!” – Nuriye Özakça and Semih Gülmen were two teachers who went on a hunger strike to protest their dismissal from work without a legal pretext. Erdogan’s Turkey probably became the first country worldwide where “not wishing death to someone” was a serious crime.
Also in 2017, Erdoğan’s Education Minister, Ismet Yılmaz, decided that Turkey’s national school curriculum should leave out evolution but add the concept of “jihad,” as part of Islamic law, in schoolbooks.
The insanity goes on; it is probably now beyond the level it was before. The deputy leader of an ultranationalist party, Erdoğan’s staunchest ally in the Turkish parliament, Yaşar Yıldırım, criticized the opposition for “trying to topple the one-man regime and substitute it with democracy” (and no typo here!) told a news broadcaster: “This is exactly what they [the opposition] is trying to do. We should not allow this to happen”. It was not a slip of the tongue; Yıldırım has never denied saying it or that it was what he wanted to say.
It was Erdoğan and his ultranationalist partners who turned a simple municipal election into an existential political war. This municipal election of March 31, they insisted, was a matter of “national survival” for Turkey. They wanted to mobilize their voters. Their pre-election strategy when the Turks voted to elect their mayors — to portray the polls as existential: if we lose, Turkey would be facing an existential threat – has become their worst nightmare. after March 31. The opposition won all three of the biggest cities (Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir). Turkey’s Islamists lost Istanbul and Ankara for the first time since they had won them 25 years ago. The opposition also won major Mediterranean cities such as Antalya, Turkey’s top tourist hub; Adana and Mersin as well as Bolu and Kırşehir in Central Anatolia, another first for the opposition, as well as Artvin on the eastern Black Sea.
Erdoğan, since that election night, has been trying to exert damage control and keep morale among party fans high. “We came first.” “Our alliance [with the ultranationalists] still has more than 50% support.” But he seems to remain nervous. Under new management. 25 years of Islamist rule in Istanbul (or in Ankara) may produce embarrassing documents.
There are many explanations for Erdoğan’s decline, the most accurate possibly being different combinations of all of the factors. Erdoğan, immediately after he won the presidential race in 2018, warned his party administration of “metal fatigue”. He was right about his suspicion. But he did not see that part of the metal fatigue was his own authoritarian rule.
Then, last summer, the lira plunge came after Turkey’s political tensions with the United States peaked over the detention in Turkey of a U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson, (who was later released.) In January, Turkey’s jobless rate surged to its highest point in a decade at 14.7% with the ranks of the unemployed swelling by 366,000 people in one month. The number of people without jobs has now reached 4.7 million, with youth unemployment jumping to 26.7%, a record high, according to data that goes back to 1988. There is recession: in the last quarter of 2018, the economy shrank by 3%. The national currency, Turkish lira, is not enjoying a stable recovery. On Aug. 21, 2017, it closed the trading day at 3.5 against the U.S. dollar. On Apr. 24, 2018, 1½ years later, one dollar was traded at 5.9 liras, a rise of nearly 70%.
Erdoğan, whose political popularity coincided with record growth rates (though some economists call the Turkish success a bubble based on construction-consumption), knows that his political future greatly depends on the performance of the economy. “Bad economic management, among others, brought him [Erdoğan] to power … It may remove him power, too,” said one international banker who asked not to be named.
The Turkish economy remains vulnerable. So does the lira. If there are more more plunges in the national currency, or more price hikes (annual inflation rate already runs at around 20%), or if more past fans suffer more job cuts, they may turn against him.
Ironically, the man who could recharge the machine called Erdoğan & Co. (or push it over the cliff) is the president’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
Who is the man that some in the Ankara political circles jokingly call “Damat Ferit Pasha?”
The original “Ferit Son-in-Law” Pasha, was born in 1853, and was an Ottoman diplomat. In 1885 he was married to Mediha Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Abdulmajed, and given the title ‘pasha’ (an Ottoman general) in 1888. During the most turbulent years of the empire, in 1920, he served as the Ottoman sadrazam, or prime minister, for six months. In 1922, he fled to Europe and in 1923 he died in Nice.
Albayrak, another “son-in-law,” has a different story. He was born in Istanbul in 1978, with ancestry from the Yenice village of a town called Of in Trabzon province in the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey. This village is located in mountainous terrain closer to the neighbouring province of Rize, where Erdoğan was born. Inhabitants of this region are predominantly migrants from Georgia who fled during the 19th century conflicts in the Caucasus between the Ottoman State and Russia. They are mostly of (more) Christian Orthodox or (less) Jewish heritage who, in order to integrate into the local community, and with pressure from the Ottoman administration, converted to Islam. When the modern Turkish Republic was established in 1923, most converts became Turkish-Muslim supremacists, although there is no way of knowing if the Albayrak family were converts.
Mostly due to poverty, immigrant families on the eastern Black Sea coast migrated westwards to Istanbul and settled in the more conservative parts of the city. They established their congregations, associations, mosques and other social structures around the Ismailağa off-shoot of the Menzil sect, which is dominant in today’s state apparatus. These are extremely devout, Islamist sects trying to gain more and more power in state bureaucracy.
Berat’s father, Sadık Albayrak is a prominent figure in the Sunni Islamist circles. Albayrak the father started his religious education during his childhood in his village and continued on to the religious Imam Hatip School in Trabzon province. He is one of the opinion leaders of the early Islamist movement in the 1960s. He has served as the chief imam of the Blue Mosque along with Beyazıd, Fatih and Şehzadebaşı mosques, which also served as the meeting points of the Ismailağa sect.
Albayrak’s business grew and became a conglomerate, Çalık Holding, with a large number of interests, which included gold mining, pipelines, power distribution networks, public construction tenders, wind and hydroelectric power stations, telecommunications, media and energy.
The younger Albayrak was the CEO of Çalık Holding when, in 2004, he married Erdoğan’s eldest daughter, Esra. In 2015, a year after Erdoğan’s first presidential victory, he became the Energy Minister. He has postgraduate degrees from New York Pace University in finance, and an MBA from the Lubin University of Business in the United States.
In 2008 the Çalık group was at the center of a controversial privatization of the country’s second largest media group, ATV-Sabah, then under the disposition of a government fund. Çalık , amid rumors of nepotism, acquired ATV-Sabah for $1.1 billion. The deal was financed by cheap loans from two government-owned banks, Halkbank and Vakıfbank, which granted a combined $750 million. The rest of the money came from a Qatari media group, Al Wasaeel International Media in return for 25% of ATV-Sabah shares.
In 2016 Powertrans, a company with links to Albayrak, allegedly made hefty gains in oil trading between Turkey and Islamic State. In December 2015, Russia’s defense ministry said it had proof that Erdoğan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq. “Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdoğan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.
So, guess when and where wonder boy Albayrak last came to the attention of the U.S. public? On April 16, when he met with President Donald Trump in Washington. A smiling Albayrak happily announced that Trump took a reasonable point of view regarding Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. He also said that there was agreement at his meetings in Washington to increase annual bilateral trade between the United States and Turkey to $75 billion.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s leading journalists, was recently fired from the country’s most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.