‘Tayyip Erdoğan is finished’

A newspaper headline about the future Turkish president that got it so, so wrong

Daily newspapers are short-sighted. They have to be. They report what happens on a daily basis, staffed by journalists who are too often overworked, underpaid and not always able to put their stories in context.

This is particularly true in a place like Turkey, where the politics is just so convoluted. It sometimes feels like every new development needs a Ulysses-esque handbook to explain it.

So, by and large, it’s worth cutting Turkish political journalists some slack. They’re reporting an immeasurably complicated story and in increasingly hostile working conditions.

And yet, the duty editor of the now-defunct Yeni Yüzyıl must cringe to be reminded of this front page I found in an Istanbul book fair on Sunday.

The headline – “Tayyip Erdoğan bitti” (Tayyip Erdoğan is finished) – refers to the Turkish supreme court’s 1998 decision to approve a 10-month prison sentence handed to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the humble mayor of Istanbul, for reading a pious poem.

‘Tayyip Erdogan is finished’ - Yeni Yüzyıl, Thursday 24 September 1998
‘Tayyip Erdogan is finished’ – Yeni Yüzyıl, Thursday 24 September 1998

The photo caption – Erdoğan: Yargıtay’dan kırmızı kartla oyun dışı (Erdoğan: out of the game with the court’s red card) – reflects how Yeni Yüzyıl interpreted the news on the day, 24 September 1998.

The decision confirmed Mr Erdoğan’s lifetime ban from politics and, the paper says inside, he can no longer succeed veteran politician Necmettin Erbakan as leader of Turkey’s religious political party.

He cannot hold elected office, join a political party or even sit on a village council of elders, it adds.

This about the man who is now Turkey’s 12th president and the country’s most powerful politician since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Incidentally Yeni Yüzyıl, a newspaper attached to the Sabah-atv media group, was a highbrow broadsheet that closed down around a year after this edition. It was a staunch defender of Turkey’s secular system at the time. The Sabah group today is another story entirely…

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