Angry Erdogan wants election victory ‘to teach America a lesson’

Angry Erdogan wants election victory ‘to teach America a lesson’
Erdogan speaking at an iftar dinner on April 3, addressing lawmakers and earthquake victims. / Turkish Presidency.
By bne IntelIiNews April 3, 2023

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily hit out at a visit paid by the American ambassador to Ankara to his main presidential election opponent, telling his supporters that they should teach the US a lesson.

“We need to teach America a lesson in these elections,” said Erdogan, referencing US Ambassador Jeff Flake’s visit to the opposition’s joint candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu last week. “Joe Biden speaks from there, what is Biden's ambassador doing here? He goes to visit Mr Kemal. It's a shame, give your head some work. You are the ambassador. Your interlocutor here is the president.”

Prior to the April 2 remarks—reported by Middle East Eye—made to a small gathering of people at an Istanbul branch of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Idealist Hearths group, commonly known as the Grey Wolves, Erdogan had said little that was critical of the West while on the campaign trail ahead of the May 14 national elections. But Flake’s visit appeared to touch a nerve.

Referring to Flake, Erdogan also said: “How are you going to ask for an appointment from the president from now on?”

“Our doors are now closed to him. You cannot see [me] anymore. Why? You will know your limit. You will know your duty as ambassador. You will learn how an ambassador works,” he added.

Erdogan has never had a smooth relationship with the Biden administration. In August 2020, Erdogan’s officials were angered when an interview with Biden, filmed by the New York Times the previous December, was released featuring the then presidential candidate Biden describing the Turkish leader as an “autocrat”.

In the interview, Biden criticised Erdogan’s policy towards the Kurds, and added that, “He has to pay a price”, before stating that Washington should embolden Turkish opposition leaders “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process.”

In a fair election, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could indeed prove to be the kingmaker that topples Erdogan. The HDP last month announced that it would not put forward its own presidential candidate. That move means its supporters can vote for Kilicdaroglu. The Kurds account for up to a fifth of Turkey’s population.

Election tensions were heightened on March 31 after two bullets hit the Istanbul office of the opposition IYI (Good) party.

A night guard at a nearby construction site was apprehended and, according to the authorities, told police that he accidentally hit the party's office building with gunshots while he was chasing thieves.

However, IYI party leader Meral Aksener linked the incident to inflammatory comments made toward her by Erdogan earlier in the week. In those remarks, Erdogan snapped at Aksener’s criticism of him, saying: “She is messing with the wrong people. Be careful, don’t get yourself in trouble with me.”

Kilicdaroglu, meanwhile, has promised that if elected he will repeal the law that makes insulting the president a crime.

On the markets, bond traders have been trimming bearish Turkey bets on a possible Erdogan defeat.

By some accounts, Erdogan sees a path to victory in a second round of run-off voting that would be opened up by a strong performance by a third candidate, Muharrem Ince, in the first round.