Turkish expats divided on President Erdogan, days before the election

By Middle East Affairs

Opinions on President Erdogan are split as customers inside a butcher shop debate lively on the job that the Turkish president has done.

The butcher shop is not located in Turkey, but a continent away in London on Green Lanes, the street is filled with immigrants and expats who have moved away from their respective homes, English is rarely the language you will hear on the street.

Green Lanes host several Turkish establishments including shops, cafes, barber shops and social clubs. The clients tend to be male, and apologetically excuse their poor English skills.

All have been in Britain for several years, Tarkan Bahadur says he has been living outside of Turkey for 12 years, Adnan Guzelkasap says 29 years and the 65-year-old Osman Alae beats them all with forty-one years away from Turkey.

The election in Turkey is on June 24th but for expats, voting begins on Saturday and extends until Tuesday.

The owner of the butcher’s shop, Adnan Guzelkasap is no fan of Erdogan, he can barely hold his disgust to say his name.

He says, “He has no respect for democracy. He wants to be a dictator,” Guzelkasap said. “He hasn’t even got a degree. He won’t show his degree certificate because he can’t — he never finished university. All he understands is how to talk rubbish about the opposition parties and anyone who doesn’t agree with him, he puts them in prison. His supporters are people with not much brains.”

Despite being away from Turkey and living abroad, Guzelkasap is worried about the Syrian refugees that he thinks are draining resources away from Turkey, “Turkey is a poor country, but we have to support all these people who pay no taxes and bring nothing to the country.

Even with falling rates of the lira, Turkey remains the 18th largest economy in the world, thought the GDP of the country hardly reflects the wealth of the citizens, especially those residing East of Ankara, in the mainly Kurdish southeast region of the country.

On the other hand, two of Guzelkasap’s assistants adamantly favor Erdogan. Tarkan Bahadur said in speaking to Arab News said, “I love him. He is doing a good job, building bridges and good roads. He pays benefits to old people. And he is a religious man and religion is important.”

Guzelkasap wholeheartedly disagrees mentioning the 1,100-room Ak Saray (White Palace) which cost $650 million to build from public funds, he asks, “Forget about the bridges. What about that big palace he built for himself?”

Erdogan popularity has always been strong among lower class rural Turks. Opponents say he has exploited and manipulated their lack of education to gain favorability among them.

He said speaking to Arab News, “He gave washing machines and televisions to a village where they don’t have electricity, but still they were happy, even though they can’t use them. He can tell them anything he wants because most of them can’t read.”

An estimated 200,000 people of Turkish origin live in London. The manager of the Canli Balik Cafe and Grill on Green Lanes Servet Kaya is also a supporter of Erdogan. Kaya who had recently returned from a visit back home observed that the country finally looked like a modern nation.

“For 40 years, we felt powerless against the corruption. Now there are good hospitals in every main city. Erdogan is for the people,” Kaya said.

Kaya and the president have something in common, both used to be fans of the now expelled and accused cleric Fetullah Gulen. Kaya shares the President Erdogan’s view that Gulen orchestrated the 2016 failed coup attempt.

He says, “Gulen is for the elite. He did good things for education, but he produced robots because he must be in control. He wants control not just of Turkey but the whole world. He lives in the US and his name is on nothing, but don’t worry, he is in control of everything.”

In the Berber Ramazan barber shop, the staff is also divided against Erdogan, so far three to one are against, Mehmet said, “But we are trying hard to convert him.”

Mehmet isn’t his real name, but because he was a communist in the 80s, he was jailed and tortured and had to flee Turkey. Twenty- five years later, he still supports left-wing politics, of Erdogan he said, “He is a fascist, who appeals to the lowest feelings in people.”

Since he become a naturalized British citizen he is unable to vote back in Turkey, but even if he were, he wouldn’t be interested, Mehmet said “I’m sick and tired of the lot of them. They are all liars.”

Guzelkasap, the owner of the butcher shop points out that much of the upcoming election depends on how well the Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) does, he said “If they get more than 10 percent, Erdogan will lose. If they get less, he wins.”

He will, however, be voting for Muharrem Ince, of the Republican People’s Party.

Among the expat community in Green Lanes, the oldest resident Osman Alae summarizes what many of the critics of Erdogan are saying, “Erdogan is dangerous. He is a dictator. He used the coup as an excuse to put half the country in jail. The doesn’t work anymore. People are fed up.”

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