Harsh winds of change in the Turkish presidency
“They think as if we do not read anything, do not hear anything, are not aware of anything. So far I have stayed silent, but that won’t last for too long. I will start speaking up, perhaps I will be the one to start an intifada.”
Those furious words belong to Mrs. Hayrünnisa Gül, the wife of Turkish President Abdullah Gül, whose term will be over in one week's time. She was not joking - nor smiling as in most of her public appearances - when she said those words. The intifada she is talking about has nothing to do with the Palestinian uprisings against Israelis. She was using the uprising metaphor to criticize those who have been “attacking” President Gül from within, who are from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) ranks of the pro-government media, as could be understood from the following sentences she used during Gül’s farewell reception at Çankaya Palace in Ankara on the evening of Aug. 19:
“Mr. Gül keeps silent out of his politeness. There were days he took newspapers away from me in order for me to not read the stuff against him and become upset. There were days he turned off the Internet, as he knew I would read such stuff online. They have been extremely wrong and disrespectful in what they wrote and said about him. And what has been most upsetting for us, especially over the last year, were the attacks from those from our own social groups, from observant Muslims. We never saw such high doses on Feb. 28 [1997 – when a harsh military-led psychological campaign was going on], days when my headscarf was a matter of public debate. It is hard to believe. I know what is going on. For now, I am keeping silent, but that won’t last too long.”
Then she began talking about starting an “intifada,” probably after Gül hands the job over to President-elect, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Aug. 28.
Before getting into details, Mrs. Gül had criticized some pro-government journalists without giving names, saying: “They made us very sorry and now they are trying to get into the same photo with us.”
Right before that, following a family picture of the Gül couple with reporters in the reception, she told Abdülkadir Selvi, the Ankara bureau chief of pro-Erdoğan daily Yeni Şafak that she “did not want to shake hands with him” because she had been “very hurt by him.” Hayrünnisa Gül also told Mehmet Akarca, the Ankara bureau chief of private broadcaster ATV the following: “You were telling [Abdullah] what he had to do all of the time. Say something now, too. Now I see you are all in the same photo with the others.”
It is obvious that it is not only Mrs. Gül who has “hurt feelings.”
Answering reporters’ questions before the photo incident, Abdullah Gül made a polite and indirect note about “disrespect,” too, also "from our own side." “I am one of the founders of the AK Parti, who wrote the party program,” he said. “Those who joined our side afterwards or those who do not know our past very well might comment on daily events. What I want to tell them is that I have taken a note of their disrespect.”
In an indirect answer to debates regarding his possible return to the party by applying for membership after his term is over, Gül gave an anecdote about the late Ottoman Prince Ertuğrul Osmanoğlu in New York. Gül said Osmanoğlu declined to apply for a Turkish passport (like any other passport) or travel with any formal letter, just because he thought it was humiliating for him to answer a question like “Are you Turkish?”
Gül said Osmanoğlu replied to him by saying, “I am more Turkish than all of you,” implying that Gül was saying “I am more AK Parti than all of you” to those targeting him from within the AK Parti.
Saying this, he still makes a distinction between “unfair” criticism and the “cause” of the AK Parti, ignoring reports that he has prepared to set up a new party by saying he was ready to make use of all of his experience and knowledge for his "party and the country."
However, it can be observed that the Gül’s will leave Çankaya - where they spent seven years -with broken hearts, signaling that the circumstances do not promise Erdoğan, the next president, a bed of roses.
Despite the A-type protocol designed for the handover ceremony, the winds of change atop Çankaya Hill, where the Presidential Palace is located in Ankara, are blowing strongly.