Bayburt, small province behind “Erdogan Fortress”

In Bayburt, a town in eastern Anatolia with its old Fiats, its rummy games and its yellow tulips, where life seems as calm as the rapids of the Körüh River, there is massive support for “Erdogan Fortress”.

This green and rural province, located between the Black Sea and Mount Palandöken, is the least populated (84,200 inhabitants) in Turkey and the least contributor to the national GDP.

But he is also the one who voted most for Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the first round of the presidential election on 14 May: nearly 80% of the vote, against 49.5% nationally.

“To know the heart of Baybert is to know Turkey,” says Orhan Ates, under a burgundy sweater and blue suit tie. A deputy elected during legislative elections in mid-May, the 47-year-old ophthalmologist is contesting for head of state and chairman of the AKP party, given Sunday the favorite against social democrat Kemal Kilikdaroglu.

“Are you ready to renew our president?”, repeats Orhan Ates in the streets of Bayburt, saluting all over the place with a nod of heads, hands held by a tesbih, Ottoman rosary .

“Yes, God willing,” some reply, airing their grievances along the way.

MP Orhan Ates (D), chairman of the newly elected AKP party, offers consultations with the city’s ophthalmologist during his campaign tours in Bayburt. May 23 Baybert. (AFP- Ozan Kose)

From time to time, the deputy pulls out her phone and reaches out to look into the eyes of a man with a toothless smile, consulting in the middle of the street, before passing the prescription to another man on a crumpled corner of paper. Worn shoes.

Here a pat on the shoulder, there shared tea. From selling tools to barbers, television connected to government channels, hardly any shop escapes its spell.

“I started as a shoe shiner, I became a professor of medicine. People see themselves in me, as we see ourselves in Erdogan”, whose family is from the neighboring province of Rize.

“He talks to everyone, not just the elite”, assures AFP the official chosen to inaugurate the cultural program of the moment – pictures of children displayed at a gymnasium – then attend three funerals for taking.

“We are a big family here and Erdogan is part of it, he is as solid as our thousand-year-old palace” which overlooks the city, said AKP provincial head Haci Ali Polat.

– Return of the favor –

If we vote for Erdogan in Baybert, explain residents interviewed by AFP, it is because he “repels attacks from outside powers” like Baybert opposed the Russians in the 19th century or Mayer As Hukmu Pekmezsi, -18″ during the “Armenian atrocities of 1916”. has been described by Turkish officials as a “genocide”, editor’s note.)

Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won 80% of the vote in the small town of Bayburt in eastern Anatolia, compared to 49.5% nationally.  Baybert, May 23, 2023 (AFP - Ozan Kösey)
Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won 80% of the vote in the small town of Bayburt in eastern Anatolia, compared to 49.5% nationally. Baybert, May 23, 2023 (AFP – Ozan Kösey)

19-year-old Muhammad Emre Timur also comments, “Erdogan produced his own boats, his own weapons, his own planes.” “We don’t vote for +cucumber+(derogatory term, editor’s note) because of the price of onions,” says this construction worker who earns 10,000 Turkish lira (470 euros) a month.

Rising onion prices have become an opposition campaign symbol to denote high inflation.

“We are nationalist and conservative and we love Erdogan”, lists Bedirhan Bayan, 26, for his unabashed political Islam and for “subsidizing breeders and building dams very beneficial to farmers”.

“There is a whole system of subsidies in place and nobody wants to lose it”, sums up the young graduate sitting behind his father’s store.

Not far from there, in his sewing workshop, Bülent Hacihasanoglu argues that in small villages, some people are afraid to vote differently “for fear of being blacklisted”. On the other hand, he speaks louder and indicates that he will vote for Kilikdaroglu to “return to parliamentary rule”.

Like him, many say they want Bayburt to return to the glory it had when the city was a stop on the Silk Road.

At his insurance company, Yusuf Yolku says, residents are loyal. “Even on 12 September” – a reference to the 1980 coup – there were no incidents in Baybert, the fifty-year-old insists. “Nothing during the Gezi events”, the great protest movement that shook the country in Istanbul in 2013.

“It would be great if he rewarded us in return, if he built a factory for us, gave us job opportunities,” she said of the president.

Bedirhan Bayan agrees and clarifies: “What the people want is a strong leader”. He would have liked a “new face”, but Kilicdaroglu finds him “weak”.

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