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With Inflation Soaring, Recession Threatening, Turkey Election may pose Erdogan Biggest Challenge

A week ahead of Sunday’s polls Erdogan rallied hundreds of thousands in his hometown of Istanbul, in a bid to consolidate his voting base

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turkey, elections
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not on the ballot box, but with his hometown of Istanbul too close to call for the first time in decades, he is leading his AK Party campaign. VOA

On Sunday Turkey holds critical local elections, with control of the country’s main cities up for grabs. With inflation soaring and recession threatening, the election may pose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan biggest challenge.

A week ahead of Sunday’s polls Erdogan rallied hundreds of thousands in his hometown of Istanbul, in a bid to consolidate his voting base.

Even though Erdogan is not up for election, he is leading the campaign, aware his AK Party’s more than decade-long grip on most of Turkey’s main cities is under threat.

Since Erdogan won Istanbul’s mayorship in 1994, a victory that served as a springboard for him to dominate Turkish politics, the city has been his unassailable power base. However, the latest opinion polls indicate the outcome of Istanbul local elections is too close call.

turkey, elections
Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate for Istanbul’s mayor for the main opposition CHP, smells victory as he tours strongholds of the ruling AK Party. VOA

‘All the poverty’

In Istanbul’s Gungoren district, people line up for state-subsidized food in a small local park, which is overshadowed by a vast, idle construction site.

“I see Gungoren as worse now, then how it once was. Is that right?” said CHP Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, addressing a crowd from the roof of his campaign bus.

“Yes,” shout the people, waving CHP flags.

“All the poverty that a person can experience exists here,” Imamoglu said, “there are no green areas, there is no social life, it is a district that is left deprived of all the richness of life. We will take care of that.”

Gungoren in the past strongly backed Erdogan’s AK Party, but people are angry.

“We are retired people, by the 15th of the month our pension is finished, after that we are hungry,” said Seniye, who wears a religious headscarf.

turkey, elections
Soaring food prices running around 30 percent is creating anger among people in Istanbul. Seniye says she and husband struggle to survive on their pension. VOA

Pensioners hurting

There is still strong support for Erdogan by people who believe AKP can still deliver.

“We are very hopeful about the elections. We just came here to see who is this Imamoglu because our path and choice is solid: We say AK Party,” said one man, who did not want to give his name.

With the Istanbul local election the closest in decades, the outcome could be in the hands of the pro-Kurdish HD Party.

turkey, elections
There is still strong support for Erdogan’s AK Party, as this man says he still believes the AKP can deliver for him. VOA

HDP strategy

Erdogan accuses the HDP of being a terrorist party, claiming it’s linked to the outlawed Kurdish separatist group the PKK, a charge the party denies.

Since the 2015 collapse of peace talks with the PKK, thousands of HDP officials have been arrested, along with elected mayors, parliamentary deputies, and its leaders.

Ahead of the local elections, the HDP says the crackdown has intensified, particularly in western cities.

The growing pressure saw the party, in a surprise move, decide not to contest mayoral elections in Turkey’s main western cities, focusing its efforts in the predominantly Kurdish region.

“This pressure we are facing of arrests means we have to come up with new methods to resist,” said Ertugrul Kurkcu, honorary president of the HDP.

“That is why in the seven main western cities outside the Kurdish region, we are calling on our supporters to vote for the opposition to help voters defeat Tayyip Erdogan,” he said.

He said “our supporters are voting for the opposition not because they like them, but for the strategic reason of defeating Erdogan.”

Second largest opposition party

The HDP is Turkey’s second largest opposition party and accounts for as much as 10 percent of the vote in Turkey’s main cities. However, it is far from certain that all its party supporters will heed their leadership’s call to back the CHP opposition.

“The HDP’s supporters, there are secular people, liberals and of course in the party, there are conservative, religious, and rightist Kurds,” said professor Baris Doster of Marmara University.

“I think that the liberals, the seculars, the social democrat supporters of HDP, they will vote for the opposition CHP,” he said. “The conservatives, the rightist voters of the HDP, will vote for Erdogan’s party, or they will stay at home.”

The HDP is working hard to persuade its supporters to go to the polls Sunday and vote against Erdogan’s AKP.

turkey elections
HDP’s co-chair of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district is working hard to persuade its supporters to vote for the main opposition CHP after the HDP decided to withdraw from key contests. HDP voters could be decisive. VOA

“Some supporters were unhappy about the decision not to stand for office,” said Gul Demir HDP’s co-leader of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district.

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“However, I believe in this election campaign period we could explain ourselves to our base. In Turkish we have a saying, ‘great minds think alike.’ What is obvious is that we have entered a very heavy fascist system. It feels like the last exit before the bridge.

“If we lose these elections, if we don’t strike a blow to Erdogan, I don’t believe there will be elections in Turkey again,” Demir said. (VOA)

Next Story

Turkey: Prehistoric Site Bears Telltale Signs of Modern Woes

At its peak, 3,500 to 8,000 people lived there

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Turkey, Prehistoric, Modern Woes
Photo of researchers excavating the ruins of Catalhoyuk, June 18, 2019. Catalhoyuk's residents lived in clay brick structures akin to apartments, entering and exiting through ladders that connected the living areas of houses to the roofs. VOA

Overcrowding. Violence. Infectious diseases. Environmental degradation.

It may sound like the worst of modern mega-cities.

But people encountered these very same problems when the first large settlements were being established millennia ago as humans began to swap a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence for a lifestyle centered on farming, scientists said on Monday, based on findings from a prehistoric site in south-central Turkey.

The researchers examined 742 human skeletons unearthed at the prehistoric ruins of Catalhoyuk, inhabited from 9,100 to 7,950 years ago during a pivotal time in human evolution, for clues about what life was like at one of the earliest sizable settlements in the archeological record. At its peak, 3,500 to 8,000 people lived there, with the researchers calling it a “proto-city.”

Turkey, Prehistoric, Modern Woes
The researchers examined 742 human skeletons unearthed at the prehistoric ruins of Catalhoyuk. VOA

High rate of infections

The residents experienced a high rate of infections, as seen in their teeth and bones, probably caused by diseases spreading in crowded conditions amid challenges to proper hygiene, the researchers said. Overcrowding may have contributed to interpersonal violence. Many skulls bore evidence of healed fractures to the top or back of the cranium, some with multiple injuries.

The shape of these injuries indicates they may have been caused by hard clay balls found at Catalhoyuk that researchers suspect were used as projectiles from a sling weapon

“A key message that people will take from these findings is that our current behaviors have deep roots in the history of humankind,” said Ohio State University biological anthropologist Clark Spencer Larsen, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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“The people living in this community faced challenges of life in settlements addressing fundamental issues: what to eat, who produces the food, how is the food distributed, what are the social norms for division of labor, the challenges of infection and infectious disease in settings where there is limited sanitation, the strategy of interpersonal relationships involving animosity in some instances,” Larsen added.

Weather played a role

As the world emerged from the last Ice Age, with warmer conditions conducive to crop domestication, there was a shift from foraging to farming beginning 10,000 to 12,000 years ago among people in numerous places.

The people grew crops including wheat, barley and rye and raised sheep, goats and eventually cattle. Some homes boasted wall murals, and other art included stone figurines of animals and corpulent women.

Catalhoyuk’s residents lived in clay brick structures akin to apartments, entering and exiting through ladders that connected the living areas of houses to the roofs. After death, residents were buried in pits dug into the floors of the homes.

Catalhoyuk, measuring about 32 acres (13 hectares), was continuously occupied for 1,150 years and appears to have been a largely egalitarian community. It was eventually abandoned perhaps because of environmental degradation caused by the human population and a drying climate that made farming there harder, the researchers said. (VOA)