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Death of 'Erbakan Hoca' closes out an era of Turkish politics

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/27/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of Turkey's Islamic political movement and a former prime minister, died Sunday at the age of 84 due to multiple organ failure. (UPDATED)

Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of Turkey’s Islamic political movement and a former prime minister, died Sunday at the age of 84 due to multiple organ failure triggered by a protracted illness.

His death came a day before Feb. 28, the date when he was forced by the military in 1997 to step down from the government.

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“The world has lost one of its greatest leaders,” Yasin Hatipoğlu, a longtime associate of Erbakan, told reporters Sunday at the private Güven Hospital where the prominent Islamist politician had been receiving treatment since early January. Head doctor Tevfik Ali Küçükbaş said Erbakan’s death occurred at 11:40 a.m. despite doctors’ efforts to keep him alive. The doctor added that the cause of death was multiple organ failure.

As the news broke in the media, thousands of supporters of the man known as “Erbakan Hoca,” or “Teacher Erbakan,” flocked to the hospital in Ankara and to the headquarters of the Felicity Party, or SP, the last political party for which he served as chairman. Erbakan’s son Fatih Erbakan and former SP leader Recai Kutan accepted condolences at the party headquarters.

Party officials and family members said Erbakan would be buried in Istanbul on Tuesday after a funeral ceremony at Fatih Mosque. His family rejected proposals for an official ceremony in Parliament, a custom applied to all former deputies and ministers. Erbakan served as prime minister between 1996 and 1997.


Former boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (R) and National Salvation Party, or MSP, leader Necmettin Erbakan join a party rally in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 1976.

“He was against flashy ceremonies. He was asking for a modest one,” Oğuzhan Asiltürk, an SP party official, told reporters.

“His last message was: ‘Work hard. If you do not work hard, you can never save this country,’” said Asiltürk, who had been closely following the treatment process at the hospital. He added that Erbakan was very upset to see the recent turmoil in Islamic countries.

During his time as prime minister, Erbakan’s Islamist-led coalition government experienced major tensions with the Turkish military and the country’s secular circles. In 1997, the military used an incendiary, anti-secular speech and theater play during “Jerusalem Day” festivities in an Ankara suburb as an excuse to send tanks rolling through the area in a show of intimidation. It then forced the elected pro-Islamic government to resign in what became known as the “Feb. 28 process” or the “post-modern coup.”


Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan (R) and the country's top generals walk together to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on May 26, 1997.

[HH] His students speak

“We are in great sorrow at losing a statesman, a man of politics and science,” President Abdullah Gül said in a written statement Sunday. Both Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, along with deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and dozens of other current politicians, were students of Erbakan and introduced to the political arena by him.

“It’s no doubt that Necmettin Erbakan, who I had the happiness of working together with for a long time and of knowing closely, has left his mark on our history,” Gül said. The president also phoned Fatih Erbakan to express his condolences personally.

“I want to express that we will always gratefully talk about him with his teaching, his fighting personality,” Erdoğan said in a speech in Istanbul. “He has constituted a very good example for younger generations with his principles as a human, as a hoca and as a leader. Let his place be heaven.”


This file photo shows then-Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel (C) and his deputies Necmettin Erbakan (L) and Alparslan Türkeş in the late 1970s.

[HH] Schoolmate Demirel, partner Çiller

Former Prime Minister and President Süleyman Demirel, a classmate of Erbakan’s at Istanbul Technical University, said he was deeply sorry to have lost a schoolmate and friend, and for the country to have lost a statesman. Erbakan had fiercely criticized Demirel in 1997, when the latter was president and played a crucial role in the military’s pressure on Erbakan to leave the government.

Tansu Çiller, a coalition partner of Erbakan, told the private channel CNNTürk on Sunday that she was very upset at the loss. “He was a very important political personality. He was persistent and a man of struggle and of faith. But at the same time he was a gentleman,” Çiller said, adding that she witnessed his resistance and his faith during the 1997 period.


In this Oct. 5, 1996 file photo the late Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan (R) and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi shake hands in Sirt, Libya.

The main opposition leader also expressed his feelings of sorrow due to the death of Erbakan. “He was one the main figures of Turkish politics. I am deeply sorry for his loss,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters in Eskişehir on Sunday.

Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli cut short his election campaign in the Aegean region and returned to Ankara to convey his condolences to Erbakan’s family.

Numan Kurtulmuş, the leader of the People’s Voice Party, or HSP, which split off from the SP after Kurtulmuş unsuccessfully challenged Erbakan for the party leadership, said he was very sorry to hear about his political rival’s death. “We have learned a lot from him. He put his mark on political history,” Kurtulmuş said, denying there was any resentment over the split.

[HH] New leader to be elected


The late Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan meets United States Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman on Jan. 9, 1997.

Even while hospitalized, Erbakan continued to work to prepare his party for the general elections that will take place June 12. He sought to form an alliance with other small political parties such as the Turkey Party, or TP, run by Abdüllatif Şener, another Erbakan student.

“In my last meeting with him, we discussed possibilities of forming alliances for the elections,” Şener told reporters Sunday.

With only three and a half months to go before the polls, the SP will have to rapidly work to elect a new leader for the party. One of the strongest candidates seems to be Erbakan’s son Fatih, who is also a member of the party’s executive body.

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