News / Europe

Loyalty to Embattled Erdogan Lies Deep in Turkey's Pious Heartlands

Supporters of the ruling AK Party wear Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan masks during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.
Supporters of the ruling AK Party wear Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan masks during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.
Reuters
If Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is fighting the toughest battle of his political career as corruption allegations swirl and elections approach, Turkey's conservative Anatolian heartlands appear to have his back.

Here, far from dividing his pious core supporters, the graft scandal and bitter power struggle with a U.S.-based cleric have served only to stir more devotion to a man they see as Turkey's greatest modern leader, delivering hospitals and schools and breaking the grip of secular elites over the past decade.

The run-up to pivotal local elections on Sunday has been overshadowed by a corruption affair that has seen almost daily recordings published anonymously on social media claiming to show illicit dealings by Erdogan's inner circle.

One senior official called the crisis "one of the biggest in Turkish history" and the government has responded by blocking Twitter and YouTube, drawing public anger and international condemnation.
 
Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave Turkish and party flags during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave Turkish and party flags during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.
x
Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave Turkish and party flags during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.
Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave Turkish and party flags during an election rally in Konya, central Turkey, Mar. 28, 2014.

But in Konya, a conservative city that gave Erdogan's AK Party 70 percent of the vote in a 2011 general election, many see the scandal as the prime minister does: part of a "dirty plot" to unseat him by ruthless and immoral political enemies.

"Nothing but lies," said 19-year-old Konya student Hatice Kubra, following the party line that U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whose followers say they number in the millions, was responsible.

"Allah sees everything. Allah knows what Hoca [teacher] Fethullah is doing," she said at an AK Party rally on Friday.

"A flock of swines that stormed our spiritual gardens," read one banner, referring to Gulen and his followers.

Tens of thousands turned out for the rally, turning Konya into a sea of AK Party flags and colorful Muslim headscarves. Some wore masks of Erdogan's face, while old men scaled trees for a sight of their hero, only to be bitterly disappointed when he canceled after orders to rest his voice.

'Golden years'

The AK Party's billboards praise their "ten golden years" in charge of Konya municipality, and opposition parties barely bother to campaign here.

Thursday brought the release of a recording of top security officials discussing possible military action in Syria. Among those bugged was Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, member of parliament for Konya. He received a rapturous welcome when he took to the stage to speak in Erdogan's place.

"Are you ready to give our prime minister an even bigger share of the vote this time Konya?" he asked to cheers.

In this city, where shopping centers, smart residential blocks and industrial parks have developed around the tomb of Rumi, a revered 13th-century poet and Sufi mystic who inspired the forming of Turkey's iconic whirling dervishes, there is a treasured sense of well-being, prosperity and upward mobility - ascribed to Erdogan's vision and management.

A population of observant Muslims with strong business nous - who for decades felt sidelined in a state run by secular elites and their chaotic coalition governments - feels their hour has come.

"We have hospitals at our doors, doctors, picnic places, the fast train to Ankara," said Leyla Eroglu, a 54-year-old mother of six, a huge banner of Erdogan's face tied around her body.

"Turkey before was horrible, constant fighting between right and left, we couldn't live easily. Erdogan is our second Ataturk," she said, referring to the modern republic's revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, almost a century ago.

Divided youth

A wave of protests last summer in major cities against Erdogan's domineering leadership style highlighted tension in Turkish society between a largely secular segment of the middle classes, mostly in Istanbul or on the tourist-orientated coastline, and religious conservatives such as those in Konya.

The blocking of Twitter and YouTube in recent days were seen as further evidence of Erdogan's authoritarian instincts, particular among a tech-savvy younger generation.

But not all of Turkey's youth are critical.

"When I go to vote I will think about everything they have given me," said 21-year-old Cihat Ozer, in Konya's gleaming and spacious municipality student center opened in 2009, the year of the last local election.

Back then the center had just one university to cater for, providing free extra-curricular courses and laundry services, as well as a soup kitchen and 24-hour study rooms. Four more universities have since opened in the rapidly growing city.

New wooden gazebos dot velvety lawns along the main avenues. Historic mosques have been restored, electricity is generated from waste, a new football stadium is being constructed, and an already impressive airport is being revamped and expanded.

Ozer acknowledged fellow students sometimes grumbled about Erdogan's more reactionary policies, although he defended the block on Twitter as the premier battles the graft scandal.

The 30-year-old head of the AK Party youth wing, Ahmet Izi, pointed to a large framed photo portrait of Erdogan hanging in his office, showing a youthful looking prime minister at the time he took office in 2002.

"Look at him now. He has become an old man. That is from working and working for this country," he said, a message that seemed to resonate with the supporters as Friday's rally.

"Yes, sometimes Erdogan is very aggressive. But people love him for that reason. He is just like them. He doesn't play games," Izi said. "He is a man of the people."

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid