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HomeTop Stories On TurkeyErdogan: The Reis, The Caliph, The Beyefendi and The Villain

Erdogan: The Reis, The Caliph, The Beyefendi and The Villain

In Turkish politics, names, labels, nicknames are frequent shifting to describe politicians. In political culture politicians are defined by nicknames. Therefore, nicknames play important role in their political life. There is two way around to generate nicknames. Politicians in Turkey may wake up in morning with totally new identity, and nickname. The landscape is very dynamic. Therefore, the political lexicon of Turkish political history is benevolent. It has full of connotations. Each nickname is given and used once.

Giving nicknames especially during the parliament sessions, pre elections or during a historical event are common.  For some, name calling is saving the day, a career building, to be remembered with, but for many it is a political vehicle to vilify, deride or diminish the opponent.

The first president of Turkey from 1923 until his death in 1938 Mustafa Kemal has many nicknames. First of all, he is the founder of modern Turkey. He is “Ataturk” the father of the Turks. He is the only politician and president that negative or disrespectful nicknames or calling are considered crime under the special penal code that decrees up to 4 years. So, no bad name or ugly nickname for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The second president of Turkey from 11 November 1938 to 22 May 1950, Mustafa Ismet Inönü was called “Milli Şef” literally means “National Chief” that was granted by republican party and parliament due to his achievements. It loosely translated to “reis”

Besides Mustafa Kemal and Ismet Inonu, the former presidents or prime ministers had a few names, suffice to them to mark their political legacy. They were humble in nicknames. They all have bad, good and ugly nicknames.

For example, Turgut Ozal, the 8th President of Turkey from 1989 to 1993 has a couple of nicknames because he led a democratic transition after the military tutelage, he was both called the democrat and Muslim leader by his base.

For his conservative identity they called him “takunyali” the one with clogs. In past, Muslim would wear wooden clog (ablution slipper) for ablution, washing foot before pray. Turgut Ozal was called takunyali by secularists, meaning the man with the clog referring his religiosity and conservative views

For his overweight he was called tonton. Tonton means chubby or stout in Turkish. There is also a book named “tonton zamani” written in Turkish with literal translation it means “Time for Chubby” also referring his civil and economic politics.

Suleyman Demirel the 9th President of Turkey from 1993 to 2000 had a couple of popular nicknames. Demirel was called “Barajlarin krali” literally means the “king of the dams”. During his time in general directorate of state hydraulic works, he initiated 40 major dams around Turkiye, so he was called by that name for his service. Another nickname was “Çoban Sülü” literally means “Shepherd Suleyman”. when he was a child he would tends, herds and feeds flocks of sheep of the family.

Another figure that has several nicknames was Bulent Ecevit, four times Prime Minister of Turkey between 1974 and 2002. Ecevit was one of the humblest politicians in his personality, almost no trace of hubris. Ecevit had one popular nickname which was “Karaoğlan” reads in English (a Turkish folk hero) he was named by an old woman during one of his visits to Kars province of Eastern Turkey. Ecevit was also called “Halkçı Ecevit” (Populist Ecevit) for his close and amicable interaction with people and social policies.

There is an election on Sunday that has potential to produce more nicknames. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of opposition party, joint candidate has already a nickname “Bay Kemal” given by Erdogan. He is being called “Dede” means grandfather by Z generation. In Turkish culture, Dede figure has connotation of fatherhood, a protection figure. He was previously portrayed as Gandhi for his 450-km protest march demanding Justice. He resembled and dubbed modern day Gandhi for his appearance.

If he wins the elections, he will receive new nicknames.

Beside the above-mentioned leaders and with their nicknames, none of the political leaders had many nicknames as Erdogan has, but not of these politicians since the founding of the modern Turkey deserve more names and nicknames than Erdogan today. Most of the nicknames are plausible, accurate and could make you think. Let’s roll down with some popular hailing, connotations and denotation labels for Erdogan, from his dissident as well. To his circle, he is people pleaser, to majority of population he is just another corrupted leader causing all problems.

He has been occupying the political landscape and political culture for nearly 20 years during this time he hailed with many names. There are many names, nicknames, and labels to describe President of Turkey Erdogan personality himself, for his regime and for his style of doing politics. He doesn’t have a singular personality no describe himself as it is. His personality is multiphrenic meaning that he has many multiple identities split in ambiguous clarification or dimensions.

The Reis

 Erdogan has many names, he likes the good nicknames that his own party members, Erdoganists call him with. “Reis” is a borrowed word from Arabic, well, maybe stolen. It literally means head or the chief. It is used to describe the prime minister of country as the chief of the country.

For example, “Reisi Cumhur” means president in Turkish context. Cumhur in this case means people, the population in a country. Cumhuriyet denotes republic. Republic of Turkey translates Türkiye Cumhuriyeti. Erdogan is the “Reisi Cumhur” of Turkey.

Since reis means the head, presumably, Arabs culturally peck on the forehead of someone whom they admire, they do that sort of the respect or honoring someone, they will kiss on forehead or head simply. After, Erdogan’s “One Minute” reactions in Davos at the Gaza panel that Erdogan made harsh criticism to Simon Peres, prime minister of Israel, Arabs lined up to kiss Erdogan’s forehead, mainly Palestinian regarded him as hero, they kissed on his forehead wherever he visited in Middle East, welcomed with standing ovations. We also use reis to describe “captain of small boat”. In a dialogue, someone would say, look, I am the reis of that blue boat you see over there but he will not have kisses on the head.

Reis is not a conservative noun though. It is more descriptively title. Nationalists use it denotatively for a ranking title. For Turkish nationalist Reis is the only person who holds the core values that make up the Turkish nation as “Vatan”.

Now, Vatan denotes homeland in Turkish. They say, since Erdogan is real patriot leader so he deserves to be the real reis for the homeland. It is messy to describe with such labels. For example, vatan means nation but with the strong connotation to define the nation with emotional attachments.  Like home or house connotation in English, Vatan is an abstract word. Someone is not houseless if he doesn’t have house but he will be homeless.  “siz” is suffix in Turkish that make noun-without, in this case, Vatan-siz means heimatlos if it correctly translates in English. A citizen without Vatan as it means stateless.

Vatansiz has become one of the ungradable adjectives to call traitors and a word to describe defectors, dissidents who is anti-Erdogan, anti Reis, means being against the vatan the land of reis. In his homeland and under his reishood, you must be vatanlover, comply with his law without any demonstrating disobedience. Loving vatan word by word equal to love Erdogan or you will be labeled as vatansiz, losing your privileges, as same as losing the allegiances bond of liege lord in medieval era.

Somehow, he was called reis by majority of people from both parties, AKP his party, and MHP National Movement Party, the official copyright holder of the reis word. Erdoganists borrowed it from them, naturally owned it. Also, he was hailed as reis after forming alliance with MHP who politically devoted their allegiance to Erdogan.

The Beyefendi

I personally like this effendi with bey. beyefendi literally connotes as gentleman but bey is like sir or mister in English or Herr in German, with much honorific emphasis. People use beyefendi to describe someone who is good person with good attitude, like goodman in Scottish. Istanbul beyefendi would be someone who speaks fluent Turkish, and watch his manners. Dismenour is not accepted for the beyefendi. Social norms and elders decide who is beyefendi. Hanimefendi is used to describe women. Ladylike

Beyefendi has been used for Erdogan for his cronies during the nepotism, or favoritism, take it or leave it reciprocal situations. For example, you, as a businessman likes to take part in a huge public lender to bid, your offer must be known to Beyefendi, otherwise, you are not allowed to take part. He decides, otherwise, he doesn’t like de-efendification process, because Re-efendification takes time at any cost, there is usually a price for that. In such situations, Beyefendi sounds thuggish.  Recep bey, Erdogan’s first name, is often used by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of main opposition party, CHP.  It is good to say that Erdogan middle name is used publicly. Tayyip last name is hailed by family members intimidate circle.  So, He is both Recep, Tayyip and Erdogan.  As reis is used to denote the nationalistic grey zones, beyefendi is like holding a baton using for “ midas touch” in area of soft cash.

The Caliph

Caliph is a fancy for that every leader in the Middle East, politician would die to just take if it is given, Halife as another borrowed word from Arabic means ruler of politics and religious together. Like two heads on one shoulder. the politics doesn’t suffice or satisfy reis, he must have religious under his arm as well. Now, Caliph, please note it doesn’t have anything do to with California, or residents of California, is stronger title than reis. If Reis is adjunct, Caliph would be equal to professor. If there is Calif, reis will be only left over as “captain of the small boat” moored somewhere. Calif is more religious ruler than political one. In 2021, Erdogan gave a reverent speech to a jubilant audience, a newspaper affiliated to Hizbullah in Turkey carried his speech to his caption reads as “Erdogan spoke like a Caliph”.  Not only political fractions called him Caliph, Abdurhaman Dilipak a man of the Erdogan land described him so “if he is elected as president, he will be caliph and appoints vice caliph in cities with Muslim populations”. Caliph in his words is not only ruler of his vatan but also ruler of other countries. Before writing this piece, a street reporter stopped two women to ask questions about the economic situation in Turkiye. One of them said “Erdogan is Caliph and friend of the Prophet Muhammed; he is Prophet vicegerent” reporter wanted to correct her with no avail.  Since Caliphate abolished by Mustafa Kemal, after collapse of Ottoman Empire, conservatives who live in the past like to see Erdogan to restore the caliphate. The requirement for being Caliph is simple, to be a strong leader, to have a palace, he has it, and turn the Hagia Sophia into Mosque, he did it. So, he must be nominated as Caliph.  If he wins the election, he will be self -appointed to Caliphate from Reishood.

The Villian

Villian literally means “zalim” in Turkish language who carries out “zulum” the malicious cruelty or tyranny who usurped the states. Villian in western politics is someone who has total authority who controls all means, nations and cooperation. Villian attain the power through manipulations, trickery, and deceptions. The main requirement for being villain is trickery to justify the actions.

In literature and fairytales there are several archetypes of the villain such as false donor, beast and powerful figure. False donor describes the villain who is generous person, give away material gains to garner power.

Zalim is a nickname used by Erdogan opposition who taste the brunt of the zulum at this regime over 20 years. They believe Erdogan is known for his being a cruel leader that no way he would have mercy for the for damaging policies that needling his conscientious. Especially after coup attempt in 2016, the members of Hizmet Movement define him and compare his actions with who adapted the oppressive regime to carry out atrocities.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.

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