Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan didn’t hesitate to castigate even his top bureaucrats to shield journalist Yiğit Bulut, a secret document has shown. Bulut became one of Erdoğan’s key advisors when he was still prime minister after Bulut’s staunch support for him during the Gezi protests of 2013, although his absurd conspiracy theories to explain why the chaos had erupted made him a laughingstock.
In a phone conversation wiretapped during the corruption probes of December 2013, Erdoğan speaks with İlker Aycı, president of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT), who he called from the phone of his official chauffeur, Harun Kandemir.
The conversation was intercepted by the prosecutors with authorization from the İstanbul 2nd High Criminal Court, acting under Article 10 of the Counterterrorism Law (TMK).
At the beginning of the conversation, Erdoğan realizes that Aycı was in a meeting and wants him to move to a more private place. Aycı says, “Exactly sir, I’m going immediately, sir.”
Aycı continuously addresses Erdoğan with Turkish phrases that are used to show high esteem such as “efendim,” meaning my lord or my venerable sir, and “emredersiniz,” a phrase used by soldiers to declare that the order of a superior is understood and will be carried out right away.
Erdoğan seems unmoved by the exaggerated demonstration of respect and gets straight to the point by reminding him of one of his recent statements that had a mildly critical tone concerning a regulation proposed by the government about the sale of alcoholic beverages as well as his comments about Yiğit Bulut.
A TV commentator and self-proclaimed economist especially known for his lavish use of hair gel, Bulut had been mocked for his extremely unrealistic theory that “in many centers there is work going on to kill Erdoğan from afar, through methods like telekinesis.” While explaining the real reasons behind the Gezi protests, Bulut was saying that Turkey had become an exemplary model for the world with its success story by ending Turkey’s centuries-long financial subservience to Western countries under the guidance of Erdoğan and that he would die for such a leader without batting an eyelash. Precisely for this reason, foreign powerhouses and the “interest rate lobby” had plotted together to topple Erdoğan by instigating chaos through the Gezi protests. German airline company Lufthansa was the financier of these protests, Bulut said, because the project of building the world’s largest airport in İstanbul would make the city a new transfer hub for world air traffic, causing the diversion of 100 million passengers from Germany to Turkey. This, in turn, would inflict serious damage on the German economy. Apart from being absurd and irrelevant, Bulut’s reasoning to explain why the Germans would envy Turkey and plot against Erdoğan was flawless.
The text of the wiretap:Recep_Erdogan_Ilker_Ayci
The Gezi protests were a widespread uprising across the country against the increasingly authoritarian policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The protests were triggered when the police demolished the tents of demonstrators in Gezi Park in İstanbul’s Taksim district who were peacefully protesting the building of a shopping center in the only remaining green space there.
Like many others, Aycı, too, had criticized Bulut for his nonsensical conspiracy theories while talking to a person whom he trusted. But this person reported what Aycı said to Erdoğan. However, even these relatively mild remarks, which were not aired publicly and were meant to only be a frank chat between two friends, were enough to make Erdoğan crazy. He lashed out at Aycı in defense of Bulut, saying, “İlker where is this coming from, where do you get the authority to say this?” Aycı hurriedly tries to assume a humble tone: “May God forgive me, I don’t have that authority, my venerable prime minister.” He continues talking, which was more like stuttering: “What I was saying comes from an investor, from here, I mean the psychology of an investor.” Erdoğan has no intention of meeting him halfway, though, as he interrupts, rebuking him: “Stop there. What psychology are you talking about?” Aycı says investors with this mindset were coming to him, signaling resentment and unease among investors that the Gezi unrest was being handled irrationally and in a way so as to stoke fears of authoritarianism. Erdoğan responds that even if there was such a concern, Aycı had no authority to discuss it “here and there.” Aycı tries to say he didn’t mention it “here and there” but talked with only a single person whom he trusted.
Erdoğan continues chiding Aycı, saying he is not allowed to discuss such things even with his wife, relating a historical anecdote in which Ottoman Sultan Fatih the Conqueror said if even a single hair of his beard knew a secret, he would shave off his entire beard. Aycı, who has no beard, tells Erdoğan, “You are right, my Sir, I will shave off my beard.” Aycı’s cringing in fear was still unsuccessful in easing Erdoğan’s fury. He continues to ramp up his tone: “Oi, you’re putting on airs, huh? Look at me! Could I do anything like this?” Aycı doesn’t get it. “May God forgive me, my sir. What kind of thing wouldn’t happen?” Erdoğan starts piling on praise for Yiğit Bulut: “That Yiğit is now the beard. When none of you were coming foreward, when all of you were looking for holes to hide in, this kid came out and fought by burning and breaking everything. He spoke clearly everywhere and put up a defense everywhere. And you are spouting nonsense about him.”
Erdoğan goes on by bringing up Aycı’s comments about the alcoholic beverage sale law, especially remarks about Cevdet Erdöl, Erdoğan’s private physician and an AKP deputy from Ankara who was one of the lead figures in the drafting of the law. “Cevdet is now the person closest to me, and this man who is closest to me took this step in the direction I gave to him, not by himself, sorry.” Aycı keeps stuttering. “There’s no doubt about it, my sir, no doubt at all, my sir.”
Erdoğan says he himself bestowed offices and positions on him but that he does not sufficiently appreciate this generosity. Aycı hurries to apologize but runs into Erdoğan’s determination to continue his slurs. He says Aycı must stop apologizing since apologies won’t help him forget his “irresponsible” attitude. Aycı brings up his initial defense one more time, saying he didn’t do anything but share the concerns of an investor. Erdoğan interrupts him: “Investor, schminvestor. What have I gained from investors, boy, leave it. We are introducing a regulation to alcohol here, not a ban.”
The prime minister says if investors want to do business in Turkey, they must accept the conditions. If not, they are free to leave. But Aycı says this investor is an important one, having brought about $2 billion to Turkey already and that he wants cooperation. Erdoğan again says if this investor wants cooperation, he must do it within the laws of the nation. He adds that the new set of regulations are not as far-reaching as those in the US, which means that Turkey must take even bolder steps. Additionally, these investors already know about the idiosyncratic conditions of the country before they come here. “Don’t you already know all this?” asks Erdoğan. “Yes I do know,” says Aycı. “If you already know, then why are you talking like this? From this day on, I will not hear a word from you that goes against government policies,” says Erdoğan. Aycı replies, “Never, my sir, that will never happen, sir.”
Erdoğan continues: “The moment I hear that, you won’t be standing there any more.” Aycı loses no time in declaring his commitment to Erdoğan: “You know my respect and loyalty to you, my sir.” But Erdoğan is unaffected by Aycı’s self-abasement and finds new energy to keep bashing the bureaucrat. “No, I don’t know. Look, had your respect and loyalty continued, you couldn’t have talked about these policies among people. You couldn’t have talked about either Cevdet or Yiğit. I am making Yiğit my chief advisor tomorrow. What will you do?” Aycı says the decision belongs to Erdoğan and that he has no right to say a word.
Erdoğan did what he said and appointed Bulut as his advisor on July 9, 2013, five days after this conversation. Bulut, whose nickname, “Gelled” — given to him because of his overuse of hair gel — was once infamously used as a synonym for adulation. He would continue to rise in prominence. He became senior advisor to the president after Erdoğan was elected in 2014. When Erdoğan established Turkey’s first Sovereign Wealth Fund in February 2017, he appointed Bulut deputy chairman of its board. Erdoğan replaced Bulut with his son-in-law Berat Albayrak in September 2018 and a month later created a position for him on the Economy Policies Board. Erdoğan has an unwavering trust in Bulut, even to the extent that he once disregarded his own Economy Minister Ali Babacan, who had always been hailed as one of the few wise members of the AKP government by foreign investors and markets. When the markets were rattled in 2014 in the days following the corruption operations of December 2013, Babacan contacted Erdoğan to convince him about a hike in interest rates to quiet the jittery environment and calm investors. Erdoğan rejected the idea by simply saying, “Yiğit doesn’t think so, Ali.”
Erdoğan warns Aycı one more time to pay attention to only his own job and to stop commenting about government policies. He bids him good night and hangs up.