ISTANBUL BLOG: Erdogan drone boys become Forbes billionaires

ISTANBUL BLOG: Erdogan drone boys become Forbes billionaires
Selcuk Bayraktar shooting a selfie on the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade April 12, 2024

Selcuk Bayraktarborn in 1979, and his brother Haluk Bayraktarborn in 1978, are Turkish newcomers on the Forbes list of billionaires, according to The Richest People In The World 2024 survey.

The Bayraktar brothers are the only Turkish new arrivals in the 2024 ranking. (Choose Turkey here for the list of Turkish billionaires and see the 2021 list of Turkish billionaires here).

The Bayraktar brothers inherited their company, Baykar, from their late father Ozdemir Bayraktar.

Selcuk holds a 52.5% stake in Baykar, launched in 1984 to produce auto parts but nowadays known for its combat drones, while Haluk owns the remaining 47.5%, according to Forbes.

Forbes values Baykar at $2.3bn, with the Bayraktar brothers’ shares of the pie worth $1.2bn and $1.1bn, respectively.

According to t​​he Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Baykar’s revenues rose to $1.4bn in 2022 from $730mn. Forbes reported that the company’s export revenues rose to $1.8bn in 2023.

These figures can be partly related to the million and one media reports that have appeared on Baykar drone sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In recent years, mainstream media have massively reported how a new chapter of relations mean that billions upon billions of dollars will flow to Turkey from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. More often than not, such reporting is then followed by a single story suggesting that the deals supposed to bring the great influx of hard currency are off.

In 2016, Selcuk Bayraktar married Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar, the younger daughter of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has four children. Burak Erdogan, born in 1979, is the eldest. But the Turkish media is essentially banned from talking about him. He is invisible. He is the problem kid of the Erdogan family.

Bilal Erdogan, born in 1981, is the younger son. He has his own network of friends relating back to Kartal Imam Hatip High School in Istanbul.

These friends are found everywhere across a spectrum of governmental offices and government-run companies. Bilal also has a foundation called TUGVA.

Given that the eldest son makes no claim to the throne, Bilal is the natural heir apparent. Despite his ambition to become the successor, he is not seen as too promising.

He is in fact the subject of a newly-coined idiom: “Explain it as if you were explaining it to Bilal.”

During the week of December 17-25, 2013, the Gulenist clan in Turkey released tapes of phone calls that took place among Erdogan family members.

In one wiretap, after Gulenist cops raided the homes of Erdogan ministers, then Prime Minister Erdogan is heard calling Bilal at 08:02 on December 17, 2013 to tell him to get rid of the cash kept at the homes of Erdogan family members.

Bilal was sleeping when Erdogan called him. Sleepy Bilal could not fathom what his father was talking about. Erdogan was aware that the Gulenists were listening in on the call and tried to avoid talking openly.

However, after Bilal fell short of understanding what his father was referring to, Erdogan had to get a bit more specific, and stated: “Zero the banknotes”.

Esra Albayrak, born in 1983, is Erdogan’s older daughter. She is married to Berat Albayrak, who served as finance minister but in November 2020 resigned with a post on Instagram after falling out of favour following massive screw-ups.

Sumeyye Erdogan, born in 1985, is Erdogan’s youngest child. She is the smartest person in the Erdogan family and Selcuk Bayraktar’s greatest strength in the race for the throne. She is also Erdogan’s favourite child.

After Erdogan and his wife, First Lady Emine Erdogan, lost hope in explaining to Bilal what he should do in the phone call outlined above, Emine Erdogan hollered that Sumeyye was on her way to help Bilal.

According to the Erdogan media, as well as the “Ergenekon” media, in Turkey, the Bayraktars are a “native and national” family.

Father Bayraktar attended the court hearings during the Ergenekon trials, launched in 2008 by Erdogan’s then-ally-now-enemy Fethullah Gulen against low-ranking Turkish army officers.

Ergenekon was an imaginary clandestine organisation. Turkey’s laicist regime of military tutelage was destroyed via the trials.

The Gulenists were later kicked out, but the Erdogan regime currently has roles for the Ergenekon crew.

In 2020, bne Intellinews noted: “Even if the [Erdogan] government were to fall, the Bayraktar family would not lose their lofty position. But the destiny of the Albayrak family will depend on that of Erdogan.”

Selcuk Bayraktar, a civilian, is regularly seen in Turkish Army operational control rooms and on Turkish Navy ships.

Erdogan frequently reiterates that Turkey is not a tribal state.

Erdogan holds forth on taxes that are collected from Turkish minimum wage earners, but at the same time finances his son-in-law’s drone business with the revenues.

Government-run Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAS), launched in 1973, is owned by Turkish armed forces foundation TSKGV and Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency (SSB).

TUSAS also produces drones. But the government prefers to fund a private company’s drones rather than the drones of its own companies.

Remzi Barlas, a former employee at TUSAS, has explained how Baykar was promoted.

Funds allocated for advertising campaigns and product acquisitions determine the success or otherwise of technology companies. TUSAS’ drones are no worse than Bayraktar’s drones.

In drone export, drones sales to African countries enjoy the most particular indirect funding by the government. Erdogan acts like a drone salesman in his foreign relations.

The Bayraktars are not only popular among the Turkish establishment, they are also smiled upon by the West. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the brothers’ drones, supplied to the Ukrainians, have become a hit with Western capitals.

According to Francis Fukuyama, the Nostradamus of our age who predicted the end of history, the Bayraktar brothers’ drones will change the history of warfare.

In September 2023, Selcuk Bayraktar shared some selfies shot on the USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s largest aircraft carrier.

US Ambassador to Ankara Jeff Flake, a Mormon, invited him on to the ship during a Nato drill.

When consistency is not a concern, life becomes an absurd carnival or circus. The Erdogan family challenges the US hegemony in the media, while begging for photoshoot opportunities in the White House. 

They protest vehemently against Israel while shooting selfies on a ship that is commissioned to protect Israel. 

On April 10, Haluk Bayraktar (@haluk) heavily and openly insulted Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who was re-elected on March 31, on Twitter.

Tweets: Haluk Bayraktar’s rhetoric is simply the ordinary rhetoric of the Erdogan regime.

The issue is that someone named Evren Baris Yavuz shared a photo of the Albayrak brothers taken while they were attending a pro-Palestine protest, and wrote: “They have sold jet fuel to Israel”.

What we are dealing with here is actually a stupid political polemic standing on surreal ground. The Erdogan regime lately announced some trade sanctions on Israel. The list included jet fuel.

The sanctions issue, let’s remind ourselves, is the biggest ever public relations comedy.

Tweets: For “Azerbaijan” in this argument, you can insert more than a hundred alternatives. See the list of UN members here.

Each time the US announces new sanctions on Russia, the media circulates the idea that it will hurt this time. Coverage of the sanctions-busters also fuels the fuss. Then it becomes clear that the new sanctions, like the old ones, have had no impact and further new sanctions are announced.

The US is calling its latest sanctions “smart sanctions”. This means that the previous sanctions must have been rolled out as “stupid sanctions”.

In 2017, at a court hearing in the US, Reza Zarrab, a key figure in the Iran sanctions-busting scheme that ran through Turkey’s state lender Halkbank (HALKB), explained in detail the ins and outs of the system used to get around sanctions on Tehran.

He drew a chart. He explained that on paper cereals were going from Turkey to the UAE and something else was going from the UAE to Iran, while in reality gold was flowing directly to Iran from Turkey.

The media right now is reporting that Turkey’s exports to Russia have fallen by a third since the US announced its “smart sanctions”.

Selcuk Bayraktar feeds his own army of trolls. This is a risky enterprise when it comes to manipulating one’s own image.

During the so-called Arab Spring, Erdogan regime intelligence units distributed Erdogan posters to protesters. Back then, Erdogan believed that the Arabs were calling him to lead the ummah, or collective nation of Islamic people. Nowadays he is begging for money at the doors of the Arabian autocrats.

Erdogan’s “native and national” defence industry contractors are in reality highly dependent on defence technology licences awarded by more advanced defence firms abroad and key military hardware components from various countries, more often than not the US.

Each time that the Erdogan regime is accused of a crime against humanity in a conflict zone, the son-in-law’s drones are seen in the sky. Whether it be in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish-populated region, Libya, Syria, Iraq or Nagorno-Karabakh, the drones are a big, even decisive, part of the picture.

Turkey is indeed the only country that uses killer drones to kill its own citizens on its own soil.

Laws and sanctions prohibiting the sale of weapons to various dictators engaged in multiple conflicts are in the end typically only PR activities. Guns, on the other hand, don’t do PR. They are produced to kill people, and other living organisms too.

There are “Third Worlders” who cannot make any kind of case that they are involved in a “just war”. Yet the arms are made and, almost always, directly or indirectly, the arms flow.

In today’s world, particularly since the 2008 global financial crisis, a humanity, not only in Turkey but globally, that would categorically oppose militarism, does not exist.

Will Selcuk succeed father-in-law?

For this to happen, Erdogan, first of all, has to vacate his post. There is no visible sign that this will occur in the foreseeable future.

Selcuk Bayraktar also has two strong competitors for the succession, namely Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas.

Both promise that they would not touch any of the Erdogan regime personnel in the event of taking over.

The Turkish state, which currently amounts to the prevailing regime, will decide on the successor.

At this point, Erdogan successor stories are no more than laughable tabloid stories. They can be amusing, good to kill some time with.

Perhaps, Fukuyama can predict who will replace Erdogan.