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Erdoğan spent his early childhood in Rize, where his Father Ahmet Erdoğan (1905 – 1988) was a Captain in the Turkish Coast Guard. Erdoğan had a brother Mustafa (b. 1958) and sister Vesile (b. 1965). His summer holidays were mostly spent in Güneysu, Rize, where his family originates from. Throughout his life he often returned to this spiritual home, and in 2015 he opened a vast mosque on a mountaintop near this village. The family returned to Istanbul when Erdoğan was 13 years old.
Under Erdoğan's government, the number of airports in Turkey increased from 26 to 50. Between the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and 2002, there had been 6000 km of dual carriageway roads created. Between 2002 and 2011, another 13500 km of expressway were built. Due to these measures, the number of motor accidents fell by 50 percent. For the first time in Turkish history, high speed railway lines were constructed, and the country's high-speed train Service began in 2009. In 8 years, 1076 km of railway were built and 5449 km of railway renewed. The construction of Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel under the Bosphorus strait, started in 2004. When completed, it will be the world's deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel. Construction of the 1.9 km long Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge began in 2013. The chosen name for the bridge led to protests by Alevis in Turkey because of the role Sultan Selim I, nicknamed "the Grim" due to his cruelty, played in the Ottoman persecution of Alevis.
Erdoğan was born in 1954 in the Kasımpaşa neighborhood of Istanbul, to which his family had moved from Rize Province. His parents are Ahmet Erdoğan and Tenzile Erdoğan. Erdoğan reportedly said in 2003, "I'm a Georgian, my family is a Georgian family which migrated from Batumi to Rize." But in a 2014 televised interview on the NTV news network, he said, "You wouldn't believe the things they have said about me. They have said I am Georgian... forgive me for saying this... even much uglier things, they have even called me an Armenian, but I am Turkish." In an account based on registry records, his genealogy was tracked to an ethnic Turkish family.
Since 1961, Turkey has signed 19 IMF loan accords. Erdoğan's government satisfied the budgetary and market requirements of the two during his administration and received every loan installment, the only time any Turkish government has done so. Erdoğan inherited a debt of $23.5 billion to the IMF, which was reduced to $0.9 billion in 2012. He decided not to sign a new deal. Turkey's debt to the IMF was thus declared to be completely paid and he announced that the IMF could borrow from Turkey. In 2010, five-year credit default swaps for Turkey's sovereign debt were trading at a record low of 1.17%, below those of nine EU member countries and Russia. In 2002, the Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves. This amount reached $92.2 billion in 2011. During Erdoğan's leadership, inflation fell from 32% to 9.0% in 2004. Since then, Turkish inflation has continued to fluctuate around 9% and is still one of the highest inflation rates in the world. The Turkish public debt as a percentage of annual GDP declined from 74% in 2002 to 39% in 2009. In 2012, Turkey had a lower ratio of public debt to GDP than 21 of 27 members of the European Union and a lower budget deficit to GDP ratio than 23 of them.
As a teenager, he sold lemonade and sesame buns (simit) on the streets of the city's rougher districts to earn extra money. Brought up in an observant Muslim family, Erdoğan graduated from Kasımpaşa Piyale primary school in 1965, and İmam Hatip school, a religious vocational high school, in 1973. He received his high school diploma from Eyüp High School. He subsequently studied Business Administration at the Aksaray School of Economics and Commercial Sciences, now known as Marmara University's Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences—although several Turkish sources dispute that he graduated.
As a younger man, in 1974, Erdogan wrote, directed, and gave himself the lead role in the play Mas-Kom-Ya, which presented freemasonry, communism, and Judaism as world evils. The play features a Muslim factory worker, who sent his son to Europe where the son became influenced by the West, ultimately ending with a Jewish "agitator" posing as a Muslim Turk and inciting the workers against the factory owner, who dies; at one climatic moment, a devoutly Muslim character shouts "all evil regimes are inventions of Jews!"
Erdoğan married Emine Gülbaran (born 1955, Siirt) on 4 July 1978. They have two sons; Ahmet Burak and Necmettin Bilal, and two daughters, Esra and Sümeyye. His Father, Ahmet Erdoğan, died in 1988 and his 88-year-old mother, Tenzile Erdoğan, died in 2011. He is a member of the Community of İskenderpaşa, a Turkish sufistic community of Naqshbandi tariqah.
After the 1980 military coup, Erdoğan followed most of Necmettin Erbakan's followers into the Islamist Welfare Party. He became the party's Beyoğlu district chair in 1984, and in 1985 he became the chair of the Istanbul city branch. He was elected to parliament in 1991, but barred from taking his seat.
During Erdoğan's time as Prime Minister, the far-reaching powers of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law were reduced and the Democratic initiative process was initiated, with the goal to improve democratic standards in general and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in particular. However, after Turkey's bid to join the European Union stalled, European officials noted a return to more authoritarian ways, notably on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and Kurdish minority rights. Demands by Activists for the recognition of LGBT rights were publicly rejected by government members, and members of the Turkish LGBT community were insulted by cabinet members.
In the local elections of 27 March 1994, Erdoğan was elected Mayor of Istanbul, with a plurality (25.19%) of the popular vote. He was pragmatic in office, tackling many chronic problems in Istanbul including water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos. The water shortage Problem was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometers of new pipelines. The garbage Problem was solved with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities. While Erdoğan was in office, air pollution was reduced through a plan developed to switch to natural gas. He changed the public buses to environmentally friendly ones. The city's traffic and transportation jams were reduced with more than fifty bridges, viaducts, and highways built. He took precautions to prevent corruption, using measures to ensure that municipal funds were used prudently. He paid back a major portion of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's two billion dollar debt and invested four billion dollars in the city.
In December 1997 in Siirt, Erdoğan recited a poem from a work written by Ziya Gökalp, a pan-Turkish Activist of the early 20th century. His recitation included verses translated as "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our Soldiers...." which are not in the original version of the poem. Erdoğan said the poem had been approved by the education ministry to be published in textbooks. Under article 312/2 of the Turkish penal code his recitation was regarded as an incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred. He was given a ten-month prison sentence of which he served four months, from 24 March 1999 to 27 July 1999. Due to his conviction, Erdoğan was forced to give up his mayoral position. The conviction also stipulated a political ban, which prevented him from participating in parliamentary elections. He had appealed for the sentence to be converted to a monetary fine, but it was reduced to 120 days instead. In 2017, this period of Erdoğan's life was made into a film titled Reis.
Erdoğan's government oversaw negotiations for Turkey's membership in the European Union, an economic recovery following a financial crash in 2001, changes to the constitution via referenda in 2007 and 2010, a Neo-Ottoman foreign policy, and Investments in infrastructure including roads, airports, and a high-speed train network. With the help of the Cemaat Movement led by preacher Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan was able to curb the power of the military through the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon court cases. In late 2012, his government began peace negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to end the ongoing PKK insurgency that began in 1978. The ceasefire broke down in 2015, leading to a renewed escalation in conflict. In 2016, a coup d'état was unsuccessfully attempted against Erdoğan and Turkish state institutions. This was followed by purges and an ongoing state of emergency.
Both cases were marred by irregularities and were condemned as a joint attempt by Erdoğan and Gülen to curb opposition to the AKP. The original Sledgehammer document containing the coup plans, allegedly written in 2003, was found to have been written using Microsoft Word 2007. Despite both domestic and international calls for these irregularities to be addressed in order to guarantee a fair trial, Erdoğan instead praised his government for bringing the coup plots to light. When Gülen publicly withdrew support and openly attacked Erdoğan in late 2013, several imprisoned military officers and journalists were released, with the government admitting that the judicial proceedings were unfair.
During Erdoğan's term of office, diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria significantly deteriorated. In 2004, President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Turkey for the first official visit by a Syrian President in 57 years. In late 2004, Erdoğan signed a free trade agreement with Syria. Visa restrictions between the two countries were lifted in 2009, which caused an economic boom in the regions near the Syrian border. However the relationship became strained following the outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011. Erdoğan said he was trying to "cultivate a favorable relationship with whatever government would take the place of Assad", and began directly supporting the armed opposition in Syria. Erdoğan's policy of providing military training for anti-regime fighters has also created conflict with Syria's ally and neighbor, Iran.
Erdoğan visited Israel on 1 May 2005, a gesture unusual for a leader of a Muslim majority country. During his trip, Erdoğan visited the Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The President of Israel Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish parliament during a visit in 2007, the first time an Israeli leader had addressed the legislature of a predominantly Muslim nation. Their relationship deteriorate at the 2009 World Economic Forum conference over Israel's actions during the Gaza War. Erdoğan was interrupted by the moderator while he was responding to Peres, and left the panel, accusing the moderator of giving Peres more time than all the other panelists combined. Tensions increased further following the Gaza flotilla raid in May 2010. Erdoğan strongly condemned the raid, describing it as "state terrorism", and demanded an Israeli apology. In February 2013, Erdoğan called Zionism a "crime against humanity", comparing it to Islamophobia, antisemitism, and fascism. He later retracted the statement, saying he had been misinterpreted. He said "everyone should know" that his comments were directed at "Israeli policies," especially as regards to "Gaza and the settlements." Erdoğan's statements were criticized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, among others. In August 2013, the Hürriyet reported that Erdoğan had claimed to have evidence of Israel's responsibility for the removal of Morsi from office in Egypt. The Israeli and Egyptian governments dismissed the suggestion.
In April 2006, Erdoğan unveiled a social security reform package demanded by the International Monetary Fund under a loan deal. The move, which Erdoğan called one of the most radical reforms ever, was passed with fierce opposition. Turkey's three social security bodies were united under one roof, bringing equal health services and retirement benefits for members of all three bodies. The previous system had been criticized for reserving the best Health care for civil servants and relegating others to wait in long queues. Under the second bill, everyone under the age of 18 years was entitled to free health services, irrespective of whether they pay premiums to any social security organization. The bill also envisages a gradual increase in the retirement age: starting from 2036, the retirement age will increase to 65 by 2048 for both women and men.
Relations between Greece and Turkey were normalized during Erdoğan's tenure as prime minister. In 2007, Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis inaugurated the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline giving Caspian gas its first direct Western outlet. Erdoğan and his party strongly supported the EU-backed referendum to reunify Cyprus in 2004. Negotiations about Turkey's possible EU membership came to a standstill in 2009 and 2010, when Turkish ports were closed to Cypriot ships in "revenge" for the economic isolation of the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the failure of the EU to end the isolation, as it had promised in 2004. The Turkish government continues its refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus.
Erdoğan made a speech after the announcement and used the 'Erdoğan logo' for the first time. The logo was criticised because it was very similar to the logo that U.S. President Barack Obama used in the 2008 presidential election.
In 2009, Turkish Sculptor Mehmet Aksoy created the Statue of Humanity in Kars to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. When visiting the city in 2011, Erdoğan deemed the statue a "freak", and months later it was demolished. Aksoy sued Erdoğan for "moral indemnities", although his Lawyer said that his statement was a critique rather than an insult. In March 2015, a judge ordered Erdoğan to pay Aksoy 10,000 lira.
On 12 May 2010, Turkey and Russia signed 17 agreements to enhance cooperation in Energy and other fields, including pacts to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant and further plans for an oil pipeline from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The Leaders of both countries also signed an agreement on visa-free travel, enabling tourists to get into the country for free and stay there for up to 30 days. In May 2010, the Turkish and Somali governments signed a military training agreement, in keeping with the provisions outlined in the Djibouti Peace Process. Turkish Airlines became the first long-distance international commercial airline in two decades to resume flights to and from Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport. Turkey also launched various development and infrastructure projects in Somalia including building several hospitals and helping renovate the National Assembly building.
In the 2011 general election, a minivan containing ballot papers with a pre-stamped vote for the AKP was impounded by police in İzmir. An independent candidate from Yalova also accused officials at polling stations of intimidating voters to vote for the AKP.
On 26 May 2012, answering the question of a reporter after a UN conference on population and development in Turkey, Erdoğan said that abortion is murder, saying, "You either kill a baby in the mother's womb or you kill it after birth. In many cases [not all], there's no difference."
Notable cases of media censorship occurred during the 2013 anti-government protests, when the mainstream media did not broadcast any news regarding the demonstrations for three days after they began. The lack of media coverage was symbolised by CNN International covering the protests while CNN Türk broadcast a documentary about penguins at the same time. The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) controversially issued a fine to pro-opposition news channels including Halk TV and Ulusal Kanal for their coverage of the protests, accusing them of broadcasting footage that could be morally, physically and mentally destabilising to children. Erdoğan was criticised for not responding to the accusations of media intimidation, and caused international outrage after telling a female Journalist (Amberin Zaman of The Economist) to know her place and calling her a 'shameless militant' during his 2014 presidential election campaign. While the 2014 presidential election was not subject to substantial electoral fraud, Erdoğan was again criticised for receiving disproportionate media attention in comparison to his rivals. The British newspaper The Times commented that between 2 and 4 July, the state-owned media channel TRT gave 204 minutes of coverage to Erdoğan's campaign and less than a total of 3 minutes to both his rivals.
Erdoğan also tightened controls over the internet, signing into law a bill which allows the government to block websites without prior court order on 12 September 2014. His government blocked Twitter and YouTube in late March 2014 following the release of a recording of a conversation between him and his son Bilal, where Erdoğan allegedly warned his family to 'nullify' all cash reserves at their home amid the 2013 corruption scandal. Erdoğan has undertaken a media campaign that attempts to portray the presidential family as frugal and simple-living; their palace electricity-bill is estimated at $500,000 per month.
In 2015, 74 US senators sent a letter to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to state their concern over what they saw as deviations from the basic principles of democracy in Turkey and oppressions of Erdoğan over media.
On Sunday, 16 April 2017, a constitutional referendum was held, where the voters in Turkey (and Turkish citizens abroad) voted on a set of 18 proposed amendments to the Constitution of Turkey. The amendments include the replacement of the existing parliamentary system with a presidential system. The post of Prime Minister would be abolished, and the presidency would become an executive post vested with broad executive powers. Parliament would be increased from 550 seats to 600 seats. The referendum also called for changes to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors.
In March 2018, President Erdogan criticized the Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj for dismissing his Interior Minister and Intelligence Chief for failing to inform him of an unauthorized and illegal secret operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey on Kosovo's territory that led to the arrest of six people allegedly associated with the Gülen movement.