How Did Erdogan Wind Up So Alone?

Though not its original intention, the demonstrations in Turkey are widening the cracks between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gül.

Will Erdogan pay the price of the Gezi Park protests?
Will Erdogan pay the price of the Gezi Park protests?
Guillaume Perrier

ISTANBUL - On Tuesday, it fell to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç to be summoned to the presidential palace. In Ankara, he met with President of the Republic Abdullah Gül in order to assess the country’s situation after a week of rising demonstrations against the government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ever bristling with confidence, did nothing to alter his political calendar, taking off for a three-day visit to North Africa –- Morocco, Algeria, and then Tunisia where the “Arab Spring” was born.

With the angry Prime Minister gone, Gûl and Arinç had the stage to push their desire to bring these events to a peaceful end. Arinç said he was “saddened,” and openly criticized the use of tear gas by the force against the demonstrators.

As for Abdullah Gül, he spoke just 30 minutes after his Prime Minister's plane took off, broadcasting a message for “moderation on all sides,” Erdogan included. Before his departure, the Prime Minister himself had denied that there was any kind of “Turkish spring” underway, and accused the demonstrators of following “extremists connected” with foreigners.

Gül underlined the fact that democracy can’t be reduced to an electoral process, in contradiction with what his Prime Minister had said hours before. The schism between the two men, who have each been climbing their respective political ladder for 20 years, seems to be widening. They were both from the Turkish political Islamic branch and the Milli Görüs (“national vision”) movement of Necmettin Erkaban.

They were considered in the 1990s as the leaders of the reformist trend within the Islamic movement. Gül is the older of the two, a rather consensual scholarly figure, whereas Erdogan is a child from a humble Istanbul neighborhood with a strict religious education.

The Prime Minister is plainspoken and his personality is what makes him a charismatic leader, faithfully supported by the conservative working people of Turkey. He’s the kind of man to call you by your first name and pat you on the back.

Erdogan grew up amongst the different faces of Istanbul, first along the street of the Kasimpacha district, then between the local mosque and the soccer stadium. He is skilled at traveling in various settings.

The poor neighborhood where he grew up became his first electoral base that led him to victory in the race for mayor of Istanbul in 1994. Already at the age of 40, the world was getting to know Erdogan's determination and his strength, while the city on the Bosphorus became the laboratory of both one man's political career and the national Islamic party.

A pragmatic side

Erdogan is someone who stays true to both his principles and his friends. He’s a ruler who trusts the people he likes, more pragmatic than ideological. His friends from the old Kasimpacha district would eventually follow him to the capital of Ankara. The former director of his local soccer club became the minister of sports, an old friend was made Transport Minister. The people who serve him are rewarded, those attempting to stand in his way are coldly removed. Such was the fate of Abdüllatif Sener, one of the founders of his party (AKP), who became in 2007 one of those most critical of Erdogan’s very personal way of ruling. He was quickly forced out of the party.

Gül has mostly stayed in the shadows, but keeps an eye on things. When the AKP won the December 2002 legislative elections, Erdogan was forced to sit out during a period of ineligibility after having declared that the Islamists shall have their revenge over the military, the keepers of the godless temple. He paraphrased a poem: “The mosques will be our barracks, the Minarets our bayonets, the believers our soldiers.” Gül temporarily replaced him and then went on to become his Foreign Minister.

After a first term supported by a healthy economy, Erdogan was reelected in 2007 with more than 47% of the votes. The impressive victory pushed the AKP to take on what it saw as the destabilizing efforts from the ultra-nationalist wing of the army and the “deep state,” a conglomerate of organisms supposed to prevent any evolution. The bold challenge confirmed the unwavering will of the Turkish leader.

But the problem for Erdogan has been his lust for the presidential seat, which still evades him. He had to let Gül take this position, who would eventually emerge as a potential nemesis.

Still, since 2007, Erdogan has been more of a manager than a conqueror. Until the outbreak of the protests, he'd been largely cruising on the healthy Turkish economy, which is his best electoral argument. But he has claimed that he couldn’t set his country on the path of full democratization because of the sputtering negotiations to make Turkey part of the European Union. But without this alibi, the government has wound up in a sort of paternalistic populism with hints of authoritarian reflexes from both nationalist Kemalism and religious conservatism.

After ten years and two reelections, Erdogan's power is crumbling. No real opposition against the AKP means no self-reflection. The Prime Minister has isolated himself, now surrounded by only a few trusted friends, his wife and daughter. Last year, he underwent colon surgery for what were reported to be benign polyps.

By every sign, he appears absolutely resolved to run for president, who will be chosen through universal suffrage –- a first -- in 2014. His most serious adversary will, quite obviously, be the current occupant: Abdullah Gül.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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