Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the town of Fethiye on the southwestern coast of Turkey this afternoon for the mass inauguration ceremony of 34 new regional institutions, ranging from elementary schools to health facilities. The ceremony took place at Republic Square in the center of Fethiye, home to the town’s primary Atatürk statue. An estimated 20,000 people were in attendance, including myself.
Attendees were relieved of pens, loose change, fruit, and other dual-use items by police on the way into the square. I am including a photograph below of one of the piles of spoils in case the Israeli Foreign Ministry would like to add the image to its Flickr photo series “Weapons found on Mavi Marmara”—published following the 31 May 2010 attack by IDF commandos on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza. (The attack resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, who obviously deserved to die given that they were hoarding weapons such as kitchen knives, a bucket, and a Palestinian scarf; as Flickr specifies that the Foreign Ministry’s photos were taken between 7 February 2006 and 7 June 2010, I doubt the ministry would deem 15 January 2011 to be out of range.)
Erdoğan’s harsh verbal response to the attack on the Mavi Marmara, in which he accused Israel of piracy and “inhumane state terrorism”—not to mention his post-Operation Cast Lead announcement to Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009 that “you know very well how to kill”, and his brokering along with Brazil of a fuel swap with Iran in order to defuse the Iranian nuclear issue—raised hopes in the region that a leader had finally emerged who was willing to stand up to the Jewish state.
Perhaps it was for this reason that I expected Erdoğan to at least mention yesterday’s overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali, since—as PULSE’s Robin Yassin-Kassab points out in his excellent piece “This is What Victory Looks Like”—the Israelis will be among the losing parties if the revolution in Tunisia is permitted to serve as a regional example. Writes Yassin-Kassab:
Beyond the local Tunisian mafia, those who have every reason to wish the revolution to fail include: the terrified Arab regimes, particularly the Western clients; Israel; and sections of the American, French and other Western elites”.
Alas, Tunisia did not come up in Erdoğan’s lengthy and admittedly engaging speech, in which he did mention that the United States is the “best country” in terms of democracy and economics (but added that American unemployment is on the rise while Turkish unemployment is on the decline). Regarding complaints from citizens about the impending introduction of stricter alcohol and tobacco laws, Erdoğan informed the crowd that the drinking age in the U.S. is 21. He continuously reiterated the need to keep up with the “modern” world, reminding his audience that Turkish citizens who previously never had the financial means to fly can now engage in domestic air travel for the same price as a luxury bus. Other trappings of modernity apparently include air ambulances, and Erdoğan essentially said that if other countries are going to have them, Turkey is too. (Readers are asked to please excuse the lack of direct quotes, as I was without a pen).
As for the seeming preoccupation with things airborne, the Turkish response to the Tunisian revolution has thus far been to send an airplane to retrieve Turkish citizens from the north African nation, and modern Turkey has refrained from praising the uprising against the Tunisian dictator, who according to the Turkish Hürriyet spent his last holiday in the Turkish resort city of Bodrum. The “report card” for Erdoğan erected in Fethiye’s Republic Square (see “Transkript” photograph above)—awarding him excellent marks for economy, health, education, defense, justice, and transportation—lacks a grade for solidarity.
I am posting a few photographs of this afternoon’s event below, if only to show that throwing a Tunisian flag or two into the mix would hardly have been difficult.