Turkish President Erdoğan’s Gallipoli ‘prayer’ stirs debate

Turkish President Erdoğan’s Gallipoli ‘prayer’ stirs debate

Turkish President Erdoğan’s Gallipoli ‘prayer’ stirs debate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stirred a heated debate in Turkey by reading an Islamic-toned, patriotic poem in a television commercial filmed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Turkish victory in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I.

In the video, produced by Turkey’s presidency and simultaneously broadcast on several television networks late April 20, soldiers from various Ottoman provinces including Anatolia and Iraq are seen in a roll call for the Gallipoli battles that raged from April 1915 until January 1916.

Although viewers noted a soldier named Nikola, an Ottoman Christian name, most of the clip is dominated by Muslim themes, including a call to prayer in the face of the Allied fleet approaching the Gallipoli peninsula in the western Turkish province of Çanakkale.

"Have you ever heard the voice of our martyrs?” a voice says at the beginning of the video, before Erdoğan’s own voice is heard reciting “Dua” (Prayer),” a poem by Turkish nationalist poet Arif Nihat Asya.

After reading the poem, which refers to various Islamic symbols like minarets, the call to prayer, jihad and Ramadan, Erdoğan is seen placing a wreath and praying for an Ottoman soldier who fell in Gallipoli. 

Modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who is widely accepted as a key figure of the Turkish victory in Gallipoli, briefly appears at the end of the video concluded by the message: “A centennial epic. We remember our martyrs and veterans on the 100th anniversary of the Çanakkale Victory."

Here is the video (a full translation of the poem can be found at the end of the story).

‘Critics are not Muslims’

Several aspects of the video were hotly debated on Turkish social media late April 20 and April 21, as the advertisement’s hashtag, #100YıllıkDestanÇanakkale (Çanakkale the Centennial Epic), became a trending topic and was also tweeted by Erdoğan to his 6.25 million followers.

Supporters defended the advertisement as a timely, emotional tribute. 

“I hope you don’t think that those who criticize the #100YıllıkDestanÇanakkale produced by the instruction of our president are Muslims,” said @durduralamaz, a Twitter user with more than 72,000 followers. The user presents himself as a social media expert and a volunteer for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) social media team.

‘Personal advertisement’

Critics, on the other hand, argued the video amounted to “exploitation of history, religion and emotions,” and presented little more than a “personal advertisement” for Erdoğan, while Atatürk was overshadowed. They stressed the poem’s call for “a hero” as masses looking for a “shepherd” for the herd.

YouTube user Eren Karaduman claimed it as an attempt by Erdoğan to remain in the media spotlight before the June 7 elections and attract nationalist votes for his co-founded AKP, without directly naming any party due to legal limitations.

Electoral outcome

The video drew mixed reactions on Turkish discussion forums, too. 

A user named “camerapolitica” on the website Ekşisözlük claimed that the short clip would be sufficient to bring two percent of the votes from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to the AKP. 

Critics on the same website, however, claimed it would be hard for the Turkish government to change the “real agenda of people in the street,” which is economic issues, particularly the rising prices.

“One kilogram of potatoes is now 5 Turkish Liras and one dollar is 2.71 liras!” a user named “sour” wrote.

What does the poem say?

Here is the English translation of the Arif Nihat Asya poem, “Dua” (Prayer), read by Erdoğan in Turkish:

“We all have a hoarse voice... do not leave 
our minarets with no calls to prayer, my God!
Either bring us those who make honey
or do not just leave us with no hive, my God!
Minarets have no mahya [a string of lights set up between two minarets to flash a short text, often featuring moral or religious themes]...
Do not take the Milky Way away from our skies, my God!
Do not leave this country, which was kneaded by Muslims,
with no Muslims, my God”
Give us strength... Do not leave the field of jihad
with no pahlevan [wrestler], My God!
Do not leave these masses, who look for a hero,
with no hero, My God!
Let us know how to resist the foe, 
do not leave us lifeless, my God!
On the path to tomorrows, do not leave
our years with no Ramadan [month], my God!
Either disperse your herd, if left unattended,
or do not leave them with no shepherd, my God!
Do not leave us, O, with no love, no water, no air
and with no country, my God!”