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Supporters of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a leader in Turkey's opposition party, celebrate after polls closed in local elections on Sunday. (Erdem Sahin/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

It’s a dangerous moment for Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has ruled comfortably for more than 20 years, with his political opponents squabbling and in disarray. But things are clearly changing. With a younger generation of leaders and mayors, Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), beat Erdogan’s ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections this weekend for the first time ever.

This feels like a big moment.

There is no mistaking that this was a protest vote: Turkish voters expressed their discontent with the president and his policies less than a year after he won the general elections.…  Seguir leyendo »

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 2023. Kacper Pempel / Reuters

No one campaigns quite like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Months before Turkey’s May 2023 elections, Erdogan unveiled his campaign slogan, “The Century of Turkey”, in front of a live audience of thousands. The spectacle included an orchestra and a chorus performing a theme song that included a rapped verse:

I was a bird with a broken wing
I stayed silent for 100 years
But enough, enough, don’t be quiet
Live free, always free!

The refrain went, “Let the Century of Turkey start—not tomorrow, today!” To cap it all off, Erdogan delivered a typically bombastic speech. Describing some of his domestic policies—such as converting Istanbul’s iconic Byzantine church, the Hagia Sophia, into a mosque—as “challenging global hegemony”, Erdogan vowed to make Turkey “among the top ten [countries] in the world in politics, economy, technology, and diplomacy”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) is flanked by his wife Emine Erdogan while delivering a speech Saturday during his inauguration ceremony in Ankara. (Handout/Press Office of the Republic of Turkey/AFP). (Handout/AFP/Getty Images)

After a long and divisive election campaign, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was inaugurated over the weekend in a ceremony that neatly embodied his vision for Turkey and its place in the world.

Erdogan won, in part, because he had convinced more than half of Turkey’s voters that a nonaligned, self-reliant Turkey, under his strong leadership, was preferable to the opposition’s call for a return to a more traditional relationship with the West. Fittingly, Erdogan and his wife Emine made a majestic entrance into the hall of celebration in the presidential palace, greeted by representatives and heads of state from the Global South — including the Middle East, Africa and countries that emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate in Istanbul on Sunday. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

This past weekend, Turkey’s voters rejected liberal democracy in favor of populism.

Sunday’s runoff in the country’s presidential elections yielded a clear win for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fifty-two percent of Turkey’s voters said they approved of President Erdogan’s pledge to Make Turkey Great Again. Despite obvious economic mismanagement, they believed Erdogan would steer Turkey toward a path of imperial grandeur.

Erdogan used all the advantages of being an incumbent — state resources, media control, favorable election laws — to beat up on his opponent. His rival, the 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is a former civil servant who emerged as the lead candidate after a more popular opponent, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, was subjected to a sham trial in January 2022 and disqualified from running.…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster in Istanbul shows Kemal Kilicdaroglu, right, the presidential candidate of the main opposition alliance, and the slogan “Promise to You.” (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Much of the global attention on the upcoming Turkish elections, and especially the presidential race between incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has been focused on the state of Turkish democracy. Hopes are high that Erdogan’s successors, should they prevail on May 14, will be able to reverse Turkey’s authoritarian drift.

But an equally important question in this election is what a post-Erdogan Turkey could mean for geoeconomics of the emerging world order. Simply put, an economically revitalized Turkey could become a critical partner for a West that is striving to recalibrate its dependence on China and diversify its supply chains.…  Seguir leyendo »

The devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that hit Turkey could have united the country. Instead, the catastrophe — which has taken the lives of at least 46,000 people inside the country — is widening the political divide between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his opponents. With a general election just nine weeks away, Erdogan is confronting a wave of public anger over poor governance and misguided centralization.

After 20 years in power, Erdogan has been badly weakened by the quake. The opposition finally has a chance to beat him. But they should not assume it will be easy.

On March 6, the opposition parties announced their decision to rally behind Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, the leader of the secularist Republican People’s Party.…  Seguir leyendo »

Damaged and collapsed buildings after an earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on Monday. (Ihlas News Agency/Reuters)

In 1999, I was visiting Istanbul when the city was struck by a massive earthquake. I’ll never forget what it was like — the deep roaring from beneath the ground with angry gyrations that led to devastation above.

More than 17,000 people died; another 40,000 were injured. This was a horrible natural tragedy. Yet it soon became apparent that human error also played a major role in the death toll. Even though Turkey stands astride a well-known seismic zone, few buildings had been designed to take earthquakes into account.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook much of southern Turkey on early Monday and killed nearly 4,000 people could turn out to be the largest the nation has seen.…  Seguir leyendo »

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony to mark an increase in capacity at a natural gas storage facility in Silivri near Istanbul on Dec. 16. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows a thing or two about winning elections — for example, that the best way to secure a victory is to win before the election date.

On Dec. 14, a Turkish court sentenced Erdogan’s most formidable opponent, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, to two years and seven months in prison. The court (part of a judiciary system largely controlled by the president) also subjected Imamoglu to a political ban. The younger and energetic mayor clearly poses a real threat to Erdogan, whose popularity is sagging as the country prepares for 2023 elections. The president’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is showing a significant decline in support in polls, and Turkey’s economy is facing hyperinflation that can be managed only by cash flows from friendly powers such as Russia or the Gulf Arab states.…  Seguir leyendo »

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, left, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Prague. (Armenian Government/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

It’s nice to report something positive for a change. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met in Prague on Thursday — possibly opening up a path to ending one of the modern world’s most intractable conflicts.

We aren’t quite there yet, though.

Though neighbors, Turkey and Armenian have been separated for nearly a century by the Cold War and the weight of the past — the mass killing of Armenians in Anatolia in 1915 that historians view as the first genocide of the 20th century. A Western-brokered attempt at reconciliation more than a decade ago failed, and the border between the two nations has remained sealed for decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Never underestimate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite his well-earned record as a ruthless strongman, he has always had an acute sense of when it is time to abandon an unfavorable position. Now, he’s showing it again.

For much of the last decade, Turkey has positioned itself as a regional hegemon, establishing military bases across the Middle East, flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean, and deploying troops in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Erdogan’s revisionism went hand in hand with his plan to spread Turkey’s influence in former Ottoman lands and remodel the region in Turkey’s own image. That included — in cahoots with its ally Qatar — helping like-minded Islamist movements to gain power around the region.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Friday, the United Nations secretary general announced that Russia and Ukraine agreed to restart shipments of blockaded grain, a move intended to ease a crisis that has exposed tens of millions of people, especially in Africa and the Middle East, to the threat of famine. The deal, signed in Istanbul, was a diplomatic victory for Turkey.

Earlier in the week in Iran, we saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin smile for the cameras in what was Putin’s first major overseas summit since the start of the Ukraine war. “I want to thank you for your mediation efforts”, Putin told Erdogan, according to the Kremlin.…  Seguir leyendo »

Did you know that the famous IKEA meatballs are actually Turkish? The legend goes that the meatballs (as well as stuffed cabbage) were actually brought home to Sweden by King Charles XII, who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire for several years after losing a battle with Russia in the early 18th century. The final battle was in Poltava, which is now in central Ukraine, and the Swedish monarch’s opponent was none other than Peter the Great, the tsar who seized parts of Ukraine from the Ottomans and is apparently an inspiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This history, along with the fact that Turkey has long been a champion of NATO enlargement, should make Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more lenient on Sweden and Finland’s bid to join the alliance during this week’s NATO summit in Madrid.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women wearing headscarves walk along the shore of the Bosporus in Istanbul in 2016. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

Over coffee, Busra Cebeci, a 28-year-old journalist with honey-colored hair, tells me about her escape from small-town conservatism to a liberated life as an urban intellectual in Turkey. A key part of her journey involved “uncovering” — taking off the headscarf that has long been a symbol of piety associated with the ruling Islamists.

Cebeci is not alone. Her moving book — co-written with Nevsin Mengu, one of Turkey’s leading journalists — features interviews with young women from Turkey and Iran who have defied community and family pressures to leap forward into new lives.

In 2019, Turkish women who threw off the headscarf — called “basortusu” in Turkish and “hijab” in Arabic — participated in the #10YearChallenge on Twitter, sharing photos of their liberated selves.…  Seguir leyendo »

Even in old age, my grandmother’s eyes would light up when she spoke about Maksim, Istanbul’s legendary club now gone, where she had heard some of Turkey’s top singers in the 1960s.

Maksim was founded by a Black man from Mississippi, Frederick Bruce Thomas, who — after years of running one of Moscow’s most popular nightclubs — made his escape from Odessa right before the Bolsheviks closed in, sailing to “Not-Constantinople” in 1919 along with thousands of other exiles from Russia.

These days there is a different type of Russian influx to the Bosporus. Thousands of fleeing Russians have made it to Istanbul, in the hopes of escaping an economy crumbling under sanctions and a country mesmerized by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s neo-Orwellian spell.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a ceremony in Istanbul for the inauguration of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline in January 2020. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Having a Turkish passport is no fun. You need a visa to travel to most countries in Western Europe, and this can be obtained only after a laborious and expensive application process.

But with Ukraine, forget the need for a visa — or even a passport! Turks can travel there simply with an ID card.

That says a lot about the friendship Ankara has recently developed with Ukraine, which is now facing the possibility of Russian military intervention. Whether Vladimir Putin’s next steps lead to a limited incursion or a full-fledged invasion, the result would no doubt deliver a devastating blow to Ukraine as well as widen rifts within NATO.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hangs in a money exchange shop in Istanbul on Dec. 20. (Francisco Seco/AP)

“Erdoganomics” is a new and evolving science.

It rests on an erratic management of the economy, coupled with double-digit inflation, fuzzy statistics and departure from a rules-based order. The underlying doctrine is that interest rates are the mother of all evil and cause inflation, though conventional economics says otherwise. Under the new discipline, as currency depreciates and citizens flock to convert their savings into dollars, the resulting market volatility can be managed by public threats against the business community, declaring a “war of independence” against foreign enemies and, God willing, a bump in exports.

If all else fails, there is always religion to fall back on.…  Seguir leyendo »

Flames soars through the forest on Monday in Mugla, Marmaris district, in Turkey. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

Swimming in the pristine waters of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast a few weeks ago, I thought, “No wonder this is the setting for so much of mythology.” The ice-cold turquoise water was surrounded by rich pine forests and replenished by underground streams from the mountaintops. With only a few swimmers on the forest’s edge, nature’s dance from green to blue was breathtaking.

But that may no longer be the case. A stone’s throw away from where I was swimming, fires are ravaging local communities and seaside resorts. With a heat wave bringing record temperatures, dozens of wildfires have devastated scenic forests on the Turkish Riviera and threatened the seaside towns of Antalya, Bodrum and Marmaris.…  Seguir leyendo »

A disgusting, vomit-like mucilage has covered the coastline in Istanbul and much of the Sea of Marmara in recent weeks, inadvertently serving as an unmistakable reminder of the high levels of toxicity in state matters in Turkey today.

Over the past few weeks, a well-known Turkish mafia boss, Sedat Peker, has been releasing weekly video drops from his social media accounts, making allegations about corruption, murder, rape and narcotics offenses against some of Turkey’s most powerful figures, including parliamentarians, former top-ranking security officials, and even Turkey’s interior minister, who has filed a complaint against Peker for slander.

Think of “Narcos” on Netflix.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Liberian-flagged cargo vessel Songa Iridium is tugged on Dec. 27, 2019, after it ran ashore in Istanbul. (Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images)

I went for a walk in the woods north of Istanbul last week — through a beautiful old forest that will probably be among the thousands of acres ruined if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves ahead with plans to build his craziest project yet: a 30-mile shipping canal parallel to the Bosporus.

Erdogan’s mega project would not just alter Istanbul’s geography. It would also destroy forested areas bordering the Black Sea, damage the city’s freshwater reservoirs and ecosystem, and significantly worsen the local impact of climate change.

Even worse, the plan involves the creation of a second city, expected to grow to 2 million people, along the banks of the new canal.…  Seguir leyendo »

Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak in Istanbul in October 2018. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

On Sunday night, Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s finance minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, terminated all but one of his social media accounts and announced on Instagram that he was resigning. Citing health reasons, Albayrak said he wanted to devote more time to his family, ending the note with an ominous plea for help from God.

Having long lost its independence, mainstream Turkish media appeared too afraid to report on the resignation for 24 hours, until the presidency finally issued a statement saying Albayrak’s decision to step down had been accepted. In the absence of an official explanation, Turks took to their favorite WhatsApp groups, where the popular explanation was that Albayrak had resigned in protest of the replacement of central bank governor last week without his knowledge.…  Seguir leyendo »