|Biographical detail : ||Turkey’s builder of bridges, politician.
Nearly a decade since it was first elected, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP government can claim credit for rising domestic wealth and world influence.
He has frogmarched his country through a series of often controversial political, social and economic reforms to the brink of achieving the elusive republican goal of anchoring Turkey in the European family. Today’s opportunity to help bridge the chasm between Islam and the west – through a country embedded in the history of Europe and Christiandom as well as Islam – is a challenge of equal magnitude.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vigorously pursued ties with the West, campaigning to get his country admitted to the European Union and for a deal to reunite Cyprus. In 2004, he was declared European of the Year in Brussels, for putting Turkey on the path to reform.
Erdogan who had a turbulent career in Turkey’s politics is a man who is seeking to be Europe’s new face. He is the leader of the Justice and Development party (AKP) that came to power in the 2002 electoral landslide despite a questionable electoral ban on him for “religious incitement” when he was a popular mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s. However, a by-election on March 2003 gave him back a seat, following a constitutional amendment to end the ban and cleared his way to become prime minister of Turkey.
Only 15 months old, the AKP was recycled from the wreckage of two Islamist movements banned by the army-dominated, arch-secular establishment and now a seasoned liberally with mainstream conservatives. He believes that “Turkey will emerge as a model showing how the culture of Islam and democracy can live together.”
Erdogan proved to be a competent administrator when he was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994. Garbage was collected and pavements repaired. He banned alcohol in municipal buildings and tried (unsuccessfully) to close down the city’s bordellos. By now he had ascended to the hierarchy of the Welfare party, and his public position gave it a serious role in national politics. This role was confirmed in election in 1995, when Welfare emerged as the largest party in parliament.
By then he was not only an established politician; he was a well-to-do businessman. He had set a company, which his family still controls, that distributed products in the city for Ulker, a food producer. Ulker is a leading example of a relatively new but growing force in the Turkish economy – “green capitalism”, the phrase used to refer to companies founded by pious Muslims that use religion as a marketing tool, and which is the basis of the wealth of the emerging Turkish middle class.
His government has mended fences with Syria abolishing visa restrictions, embraced post-war Iraq, started to address the rift with Armenia and started devising the first real policy of reconciliation with its own Kurdish minority.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan who grew up in the modest but macho Kasimpasa neighbourhood of Istanbul is a tall, self-assured, tailored and groomed person. He is deeply religious man with a talent for rough and tumble of democratic politics.
He was the youngest of five children of a father who, like millions of Turks after him, migrated as a young man to the big city from the Black Sea town of Rize, eventually becoming a captain on a ferry on the Bosporus, which divides the city between Europe and Asia.