[Opinion] Turkey’s security chiefs on the rise as Erdoğan’s health woes worsen

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Türkmen Terzi

Retired Turkish journalist and economist Memduh Bayraktaroğlu, who also served as an adviser to former prime minister Tansu Çiller, claimed on his YouTube channel on Aug. 15  that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ceded his executive power to Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Bayraktaroğlu argued that the first sign of Akar taking the reins was his visit Turkey’s Iranian border on July 14 to monitor the security forces’ activities to prevent an influx of Afghan refugees despite Erdoğan’s pro-Afghan-immigration approach.

Bayraktaroğlu predicts that there will be no early election, but rather that Erdoğan will officially stay in power until the scheduled election, set for June 2023. The assumption is that Akar will operate from behind the scenes and that he will name a new cabinet to rescue the Turkish economy from recession.

Bayraktaroğlu’s argument is based upon the suspicion that Erdoğan is struggling with serious health problems. Erdoğan’s health has been a contentious issue since an incident in Ankara in October 2006 when he fell ill in his car after a drop in his blood sugar level. It was reported that his driver accidentally locked him in his car and that Erdoğan’s security detail was subsequently forced to smash the window before rushing an unconscious Erdoğan to a hospital. Sümer Güllap, the 42-year-old doctor who treated and diagnosed the prime minister, died suddenly in 2018, reportedly from the common flu. Her death raised questions among the Turkish public since she was the only one to have information pertaining to Erdoğan’s health and was known to be in good health before her untimely demise.

Erdoğan’s ill health persisted, and he eventually underwent surgery on the lower intestine in November 2011. He then had a second procedure in February 2012. The now-defunct Taraf newspaper in March 2012 published a leaked email from the Stratfor security analysis company claiming that Erdoğan had colon cancer and had just two years to live. Following the “cancer rumor,” an Erdoğan aide told Reuters that Stratfor’s email was “speculation and gossip.” “It is God and only God who knows how long each of us will live. When the time of death comes, you cannot move it back or forth by an hour,” Erdoğan stated as he and his team pushed back against the cancer allegations, according to Reuters.

Fuat Avni, an anonymous Twitter phenomenon whose tweets mostly center around leaks concerning Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), believes Erdoğan had colon cancer as well as epilepsy. Avni stated in a Twitter thread in May 2016 that Erdoğan also suffers from diabetes and prostate complications together with various other illnesses and that several medical devices have been installed in various parts of his presidential palace.

“Our Honorable Prime Minister had a successful abdominal laparoscopy procedure on November 26, 2011,” the Prime Ministry said in a statement denying the cancer speculation.

The AKP has always strictly censored any developments related to Erdoğan’s health since he fainted in his car in 2006. Erdoğan’s security detail ensured the complete evacuation of the second and third floors of the Marmara University Pendik Teaching and Research Hospital prior to Erdoğan’s first surgery there. Erdoğan’s doctors as well as AKP members shared only limited information regarding his operations and the overall condition of his health. But Turkey’s Communications Directory dropped the ball and after a nearly two-decade-long censorship on Erdoğan’s health, they released a pre-recorded Eid greeting for members of the AKP on July 21. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency ran the video in full, failing to edit out the moment where Erdoğan can be seen momentarily dozing off and struggling with his speech.

Journalist and TV personality Fatih Altaylı accused Erdoğan’s office of putting the president in a difficult position, arguing that Erdoğan’s health issues have now been exposed to global scrutiny and debate at the risk of national security. Veteran Turkish journalist Can Dündar and many other social media users reminded the public of Erdoğan’s calls for the resignation of former prime minister Bülent Ecevit, who was suffering from health complications at the time. “Ecevit is seriously ill. He has health problems. He should resign immediately,” Erdoğan said in May 2002. Ecevit served as prime minister four times between 1974 and 2002.

Eagle-eyed TV viewers often spark debate on social media with observations that Erdoğan struggles to walk when he takes part in international summits and receives foreign guests. In 2017 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tapped the desk in a bid to rouse Erdoğan, who had repeatedly fallen asleep during a live media briefing. Erdoğan’s wife Emine was seen helping Erdoğan as he walked down a flight of stairs during an AKP congress in February of this year.

Prominent Turkish journalist Ahmet Nesin mentioned in a YouTube video on Aug. 8 that although Erdoğan survived two major abdominal surgeries in the past, he still suffers from epilepsy as well as displaying characteristics of personality disorders and dementia and that his deteriorating health has become increasingly visible in recent years. Nesin said it is not ideal to have a person suffering from epilepsy in a position such as that of an army commander, bureaucrat or head of state and that Erdoğan’s health reports should be released to the public, while Turkey’s doctors should decide whether or not he is fit for office.

Like Bayraktaroğlu, Nesin argues that Defense Minister Akar has been spreading rumors about Erdoğan’s health with the intent of assuming Erdoğan’s executive powers. An early election would not be good for the ruling AKP as Turkey finds itself in the midst of a serious economic crisis. Election surveys indicate that the votes of the AKP and its electoral alliance partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will not be enough to secure a victory in the 2023 presidential election. Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, who have worked closely with Erdoğan since Turkey implemented an expansionist foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, may be just the ones to hold the reins behind the scenes at least until the next general election while Erdoğan becomes less visible, resting in his palaces.

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