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MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

mab@hurriyet.com.tr

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND > Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan: I don’t have cancer

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. DHA photo

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. DHA photo

I am sure you too were curious about the health of the prime minister. I had hundreds of questions when I went to see him Jan. 18. The interview took about three hours. 

It was for the documentary “28 Şubat” (Feb. 28). I was also anchoring the evening news at 7 p.m. He was late and everything was delayed. I told him he was risking my job and that we should start live with current affairs. To my surprise he accepted my suggestion. I was able to ask everything. 

There is a difference between the former Erdoğan and today’s Erdoğan. This time I saw a very careful Erdoğan who was taking good care of himself. He has changed from fifth to second gear and was counting the days till he can speed up again. 

The biggest speculation at the moment is that the prime minister has cancer, that it has spread and that a large portion of his intestines were removed and he is currently undergoing chemotherapy. 

I am being treated for cancer and I am undergoing chemotherapy. I know what that means and how it affects your body. I can easily understand whether a person is undergoing chemotherapy. I looked at Erdoğan and concluded: “No, he isn’t…” 

I asked that to the prime minister first of all: “Do you have cancer?” 

He was very clear: “No, I don’t have cancer.” There were some polyps detected in his intestines a while ago. If they were not removed, they could have developed into cancer. The operation was not an urgent one; it was decided and planned ahead of time. 

He also said he did not keep it as a secret that he was going to undergo surgery, but that he simply didn’t announce it. “I went out around 7 or 8 p.m. in a very ordinary way and went to the hospital. If anybody turned his head, he could have seen us,” he said. Obviously our colleagues have gotten accustomed to “press release” journalism. As long as the Office of the Prime Ministry does not include it in his daily program, they did not even wonder where the prime minister could be. 

He was in intensive care for a few hours, and then he was taken to a regular room. No cancer cells were found. “I was very uncomfortable with aphonia and back pain for a while. My voice was gone because of the tube inserted down my throat during the operation and my back pains were due to the position in which I was held during the operation.” 

Was he ever afraid, I asked? “No. The words coming from the doctors were scary, but I believe in what God has for us. Whatever the creator says, that happens…” 

He has watched a lot of TV and read many newspapers throughout his recovery. “I did not watch debates because I did not want to hear anything that would upset me.” Which programs could he have possibly watched? He did not elaborate, but he liked the show that Abbas Güçlü did with me at Koç University. “Your grandson is very cute,” he said and talked about his own adventures with his youngest grandson. 

Fifth gear in March 

The prime minister is living in second gear compared to his former lifestyle. “Doctors are still taking great care of me and telling me not to exhaust myself,” he said. He used to start his day early in the morning and continue through midnight with three to four speeches during the day, four or five meetings and countless visits. They are not happening now. Even though he does not like it very much he had to shift down. He does not exhaust himself; he does not feel tired. But after the month of March, he says he will be back to his former self. Several international trips are planned after March and April. 

The prime minister invited me to join them for dinner after the shooting. I cancelled my return ticket to Istanbul. His daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan was with us during the shooting and dinner. She does not herself plan to go into politics in the future. She is like a field commissioner watching her father’s every step and the prime minister said she was his harshest critic. She is very much like a consultant. 
On the Dink case, the prime minister was not able to directly comment on the case because the legal proceedings are not totally over, but he openly accepted that the verdict has hurt the public conscience. I could see his discomfort openly. 

I will continue to share my impressions of my three-hour interview with the prime minister.

January/20/2012

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