First Lady Gül’s legacy: Silent powerhouse
It was my first time in the Çankaya Presidential Palace after 10 years. I have covered Süleyman Demirel’s presidency as a reporter, but it was a different place then. So when I received the invitation for the final reception hosted by President Gül and Mrs. Gül, I was sure that this was going to be exciting. And so it was.
Before getting into the political debate of it all, we as a nation, owe a big thanks to Mrs. Gül for transforming the palace into a place we all can be proud of. Demirel and Sezer used and lived inside the Çankaya, but never thought of turning that place into a showcase of the Republic. Maybe priorities were different, maybe they were coming from a more modest generation. But despite all of the criticism about the cost of it, let us be proud of Mrs. Gül’s Çankaya, because we are a part of it.
The walls are full of paintings, the stairways, halls and corridors are bright. There are flowers everywhere. Sculptures surprise you on the steps to the main ceremony hall. Young staff greet you with smiles and make sure you get properly entertained. Portraits of former presidents cover the walls of the connecting corridors. And a gigantic portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of our Republic greets you on the stairway, reminding you how we became a nation after all.
The final reception was almost like the receptions in the White House. From basketball stars, to TV celebrities, from business tycoons to religious leaders, the main ceremony hall was full of people who wanted to bid farewell to a president in Ankara, but also welcome him and his wife to a new life in Istanbul.
Mrs. Hayrünnisa Gul is a symbol of typical Turkish women: A silent powerhouse who stands by her man. A kind and gentle mother who keeps her silence until that last drop. But when she is done, she is done for good.
As a journalist, I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Gül almost 15 years ago when Mr. Gül had become one of the new and young MP’s of the Refah Party. They were living in one of the small two floored Parliament lodgings in Oran. She was kind, modest and smart then. She is the same person now. Her dresses may have become more expensive, she looks even better now than 15 years ago. But Hayrünnisa Gül has been the same person the whole time.
The First Lady would never break her silence if it were not for the attacks that came from the younger wing, so called “advisors” of the Justice and Development Party (Ak Party). Abdullah Gül, together with people like Cemil Çiçek, Bülent Arınç and Mehmet Ali Şahin, navigated this ship through some incredible storms. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not even present in some of them. The Iraq War was one of them, for those who recall the vote. And if it were not for the “elderly” of the party, president-elect Erdoğan might have still been the mayor of Istanbul.
The Ak Party became a nation-wide party because of Erdoğan’s hard work and his team building skills. But the seeds of the tree were planted in the small houses of the young Refah Party members, late Necmettin Erbakan’s trips and on the time and sacrifice of people like Mrs. Gül. She is rightfully angry at the people who have just jumped on this ship a couple of years ago after seeing the prospect of wealth and power.
“We had never seen this kind of thing even during [the time surrounding] Feb. 28, not even during the presidential elections in 2007 when my headscarf had become an issue,” Mrs. Gül said. For her, the vase was broken and it could not hold water anymore. The litmus test results were clear. The party was not the one they had founded and guarded for so long.
As quiet as she was seen by the public, privately Mrs. Gül is an outspoken advisor of President Gül. Without her, he could not have been there. From now on, Abdullah Gül is more dependent on her. No wonder younger supporters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) rallied for her on Twitter on Aug. 20. Some even jokingly wrote, “Hey maybe she should run for the chairmanship of the party.”
Istanbul will be a better place to start all over. And we will be lucky to cover their stay.