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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid