If you are starving or unemployed in Turkey, don’t say it out loud
Updated: Jul 5
During the early years of President Erdogan’s rule you could clearly see that he was at his most comfortable while wandering the streets talking to the crowds. Yet now he is hardly able to communicate with his voters.
 The latest incident happened when a middle-aged woman approached him saying, “I am starving.” To which he said nothing. Communicating with Erdogan has become the privilege of only a select few in Turkey.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political legacy started in the actual slums, on the back streets. He rose to power as his fame was derived from being a man of the people. More than 20 years ago that status distinguished him among other politicians.
However, term after term, the source of Erdogan’s power has transitioned from the people to the state. During the early years of his rule you could clearly see that he was at his most comfortable while wandering around the streets or talking to the crowds.
Yet now it seems like a political science 101 lesson would benefit him as he is hardly able to communicate with his voters.
You would think one of those incidents would be Chaushesku/Temeshvar moments for Erdogan, but none of them have been. Because Turkey is not Romania and the times have changed. However, those interactions give us an idea about the structure within Turkey.
The latest incident happened in Turkey’s southeast city of Elazığ. As Erdogan was walking the streets of Elazığ with his enclave, a middle-aged woman dressed modestly approached Erdogan.
It was not really an unusual scene as people usually try to reach out whenever they see Erdogan. They almost instinctively know that there is only one decision-maker. So, to get a problem sorted out, reaching Erdogan seems to be the only option.
Communicating with Erdogan, however, is a privilege of only a select few in Turkey. Regardless, the woman in Elazığ approached Erdogan with a few other women around her.
She called out to Erdogan and said, “I am starving.” The video of her cries for help has been circling the internet. We hear her saying something else also, and the women next to her are also trying to say something. It is not easy to hear.
However, we do clearly hear her say, “I am starving.” Erdogan does not respond. We can clearly see, Erdogan is close enough to hear her cries. He stares right at her.
We cannot see the expression on his face as he is wearing a mask, but we see him hear the woman calling out to him, saying she is starving. He stares, does not respond, and moves away.
Another iconic moment takes its place in history. But this is only half the story. The next day, the governor of Elazığ calls the woman to the governor’s office.
The governor then makes sure that she did not mean to complain. She says, during her visit to the office, smiling at the cameras, that she is doing very well. That only her son is having a difficult time finding a job.
She tacks on how much she loves Erdogan and says, I hope God takes days left in my life and gives them to Erdogan. The sentence structure is familiar as it is used often among Erdogan’s supporters and AKP circles.
Last year in October, Erdogan was touring around Turkey. He was in Malatya this time. He stopped his bus to interact with the local people.
A middle-aged man Mesut İnce, approached his bus and said, he has been unemployed he is having hard time providing for his family. In the video of the interaction Erdogan also had a mask. So, it is hard to see a facial expression, but he did respond.
He said, I find this to be a bit exaggerated. He then threw tea bags into the small crowd and told them to have tea for peace.
Mesut İnce, issued a statement a few days later, saying he was misunderstood. He claimed he only used those words metaphorically. Saying out loud that you are penniless or unemployed is a risky thing to do in today’s Turkey.
Although there is only person who can solve your problems, he is not eager to listen to your problems anymore.
The more he has ascended the steps of power, the more he became disconnected from reality. However, Erdogan is now protected by the state’s institutions against the people. So, complaints rising from the streets might not mean much to him and his enclave.