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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More