Turkish governor, army chief face public fury over gifts
Balkanlıoğlu presented a rug and a marble chess set to Gen Özel.The presentation of gifts by Afyonkarahisar Governor İrfan Balkanlıoğlu to Turkey's top general during a visit two days after 25 soldiers died in a munitions depot blast has caused public outrage.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel visited a garrison in the Anatolian province of Afyonkarahisar on Sept. 7 after an explosion at a munitions depot there killed 25 soldiers on Sept. 5.
Özel inspected the blast site and later paid a visit to Afyonkarahisar Gov. Balkanlıoğlu at the governorship to offer his condolences. There, Balkanlıoğlu presented local goods as gifts to Özel and placed pictures of the visit on the governorship's official website. Social media exploded in a fury after news of the incident spread over the Internet.
Reports of the gift ceremony and subsequent reactions made the top news on Turkish news websites within hours of the incident, as the government scrambled to protect its governor. Hüseyin Çelik, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said on Sept. 7 that there was nothing unusual about the presentation of gifts and that it was a "tradition to give presents to a visitor … There is nothing odd about this, they did not dance or laugh in joy or anything," Çelik said.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, harshly criticized the ceremony, with main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy chairman Gürsel Tekin saying the scene was "unacceptable." Oktay Vural from Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) described the incident as an act of "sheer carelessness." Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Hasip Kaplan described the ceremony as tactlessness and an act which "could not be explained in any tradition."
Gen. Özel was forced to make a statement yesterday in the face of mounting public and political pressure and said his sorrow for the death of 25 soldiers "redoubled after seeing the reactions." Özel said he could not react out of courtesy when the governor presented gifts to him. "I believe the gift ceremony was a tradition of our state and did not have any relations to the sad incident that preceded it."
'Life goes on'
Gov. Balkanoğlu also made a statement yesterday, saying he could not "make sense of the reactions." "We are in pain but life goes on," Balkanoğlu said, adding: "Gen. Özel is a man with a wide social circle. If someone was to come to his office and see the rug I gave him and ask where he got him, he would say 'from Afyonkarahisar.' Then that person would come here for shopping, that would be good for local business."
Balkanoğlu's statement caused further upheaval from politicians as AKP Group Chairman Mustafa Elitaş said the governor should have given the gifts in private and not publicize the event. "Life goes on, yes, but what the governor has done is not right. Those in places of authority should feel the need to act more responsibly," Elitaş said.
CHP deputy Mehmet Kesimoğlu said the governor should be removed from office after his statement. "For the first time in its history, the Turkish Republic sees a governor attempting a tourism stunt at the expense of martyrs," he said.
Meanwhile, pictures of Gen. Özel's visit to the Afyonkarahisar governor were removed from the governorship's official website.