It is 26th February, 2023, a Sunday; halfway through the last week of the month. Eighty-seven-year-old Consolata Chezi – not Condoleezza Rice — a retired Tanzanian primary school teacher, tells me of how she wants to celebrate her 88th birthday, due on 1st March and, her baptism, a day later. She wants a special dress for the birthday and a white garment on her day of baptism. And each occasion must be accompanied by a special Mass celebration request at our local parish church located in a typical Dar es Salaam Commercial City suburb area, Kisiwani. This is the first time she has come with such demands over the past decade. Normally, we marked her birthday quietly. But no skipping.
If you want, call me a self-branded member of the so-called global village. My mind was still glued to disturbing reports from Turkey and Syria about the impact and aftermath of the mass devastation earthquakes in a century, on top of live wounds of the year-old Ukraine-Russia war, showing no signs of ebbing, ending let alone. Even worse, another Russian Federation neighbor, Moldova, was reported to be very uneasy; shivering from fears of becoming Putin military campaign’s next destination after Ukraine. And these fears were not farfetched. On the heels of this threat, Hungarian budget airline, Wizz Air, was quoted by DW and BBC as announcing that as of 14th March, 2023, it would be suspending all flights to and from the Moldovan Chisinau capital “due to security concerns linked to rising tensions with Russia.”
In the process of searching, I learned that the 26th of February is also the birthday of mighty, now virtually one-man-rule Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He had just turned 69. I wondered: “Why is nobody saying anything about this? No state media mention; no ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party statement; not even a word from ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Why? Could the occasion have been postponed because of the impact of the earthquakes’ death toll? If a Tanzanian granny subsisting on a monthly pension of 100,000/- (about $45) finds cause for celebrating her birthday, what is it that should hold back President Erdogan?”
My rescue comes from a Turkish friend literally living in exile. “He (Erdogan) has no tradition of (holding a) birthday party,” he tells me. My sixth sense immediately opines: “But Erdogan could be very right in trashing his birthdays. Since he assumed power, what does he have on offer worth public if not self-interest?” I felt like tracking the life of this former prime minister, mayor of Istanbul and, now president of Turkey; founder of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
A chain of keywords emerged. The likes of family and economy state, separation of powers, governance and the rule of law, tolerance, peace and security, social services delivery, issues of gender and human rights, respect for international protocols which the country is party to and the freedom of media houses, TV, Radio stations and the journalists. Even sympathy and empathy.
My first check point was the palace in the Ankara government seat. How settled would Erdogan be with a birthday party there? Having struck a red pen through the global Istanbul Convention that seeks to address the rights of women, what could he tell his wife, Emine? Couldn’t the First Lady be actually suffering from ‘internal hemorrhage’ due to concerns of the Saturday Mothers and the fate of Turkish women being murdered by their spouses daily with impunity? How about mothers languishing in jails with their new babies and under-ten children for no apparent reason? Strip searches don’t mention. In front of activist Emine, Erdogan would be better off without a birthday mention.
How about his children, Ahmet, Bilal, Esra, and Sumeyye? How would they feel about their dad president? The experience is indeed great. But wouldn’t they feel humbled by their father being referred to as a head of state leading a corrupt government with links to organized crime gangs and drug trafficking? How would he explain the Mafia boss Sedat Peker revelations to them without ‘killing the taste’ of a birthday?
Putting Esra and Sumeyye apart as interested parties, could dad Erdogan explain to Ahmet and Bilal the premise for his seemingly out of proportion high esteem he holds for their brothers-in-law to warrant a happy extended family birthday observance?
Berat Albayrak, Esra’s husband, is a well-schooled Turkish tycoon who served first as minister of energy and natural resources and was accused of involvement in oil production and smuggling in the Islamic State (IS). How does this tally with Erdogan’s proclaimed anti-ISIL tongue-in-the-cheek behavior? During Albayrak’s tenure of office, the energy sector is alleged to have been behind the 2018 debt and currency crisis. As if this was not bad enough, President Erdogan in that year appointed him minister of finance and treasury. Within hours, the value of the lira tumbled more than 3%. Players in the economy were so disturbed by his presence that he had to quit the job on grounds (pretexts?) of ‘health’ and …spending ‘more time with his family’.
The husband of Sumeyye, Selcuk Bayraktar, equally well read, is one of top officials at Turkey’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturing firm, Baykar, whose products are on the Turkish armed forces inventory. The company, which produces Turkey’s hotcake combat Bayraktar TB2 drone series is alleged to have been heavily funded by the Erdogan government, an arrangement that it strongly denies. “Here is a company that has never used a single penny of credit in its 40 years of life. We have never used credit”, Director General Haluk Bayraktar has said. This write up is not on investment financing arrangements. There is nothing strange in an undertaking of that magnitude getting government support. So, why should one labour bout it?
But peeping beyond the stage from the social perspective, one experiences a kind of interesting ‘scene within the scene’. The father of Berat and Selcuk, is a businessman and owner of Yeni Safak newspaper and has been the supporter of Erdogan since the days when he was the mayor of Istanbul. And reading between the lines, who can deny that the arrangement of these marriages has been a kind of nuptial-linked tangent genius investment, promotion and marketing strategy. Within the background of all this, doesn’t Erdogan really have the cause for not celebrating his birthdays? How does he celebrate?
Over the 20 years or so that he has been in power, Erdogan, likened to an earthquake, has floored all the columns of the democratic structures. He is now virtually the parliament, the judiciary and the executive. To ‘prostitute’ a little the spirit of many country constitutions, Erdogan has turned Turkey from a country governed by the rule of law to one governed by decree, a rule by law sort of. He is on record for having made decrees which are more than twice the number of bills that have gone through normal parliamentary procedures. He is the also the judiciary. How can he celebrate a birthday?
The people of Turkey have seen their powerful lira value fall to the rock bottom due to what has been expressed as Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policy about interest rates. Can he celebrate a birthday when his people are living under severe inflation and professionals leaving or threatening to?
Turkey holds on to the controversial July 15, 2016 coup, which the world now knows for sure that it was a false flag. But look at how much the country has suffered from the consequent emergency declarations and decrees that have seen innocent people arrested, prosecuted on flimsy charges and jailed in hard labour maximum security prisons? Having a different opinion is a crime in Turkey, just as it is to have a Gulen surname, however distant.
To cap it all, the very latest reports say that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been asked to investigate the Turkish government for alleged crimes against humanity in its pursuit and persecution of opponents around the world. According to The Guardian newspaper, a panel of European legal experts compiled a dossier of witness testimonies giving details of torture, state-sponsored kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment of about 200,000 people. What could prevent Erdogan from being on the wanted list? The chief suspect? Why not?
In the wake of the raised non-exhaustive aspects, can Erdogan avoid choosing to go into symbolic hiding on his birthday? No. The negative impact of his rule at home and abroad could easily compete with that of the recent earthquakes. After all, even the magnitude of the death toll could have been less, if only his government could have avoided corrupting the construction code. Erdogan has no choice. He has to skipping his birthdays.