Turkey: Back to Erdogan's Istanbul roots
Istanbul has always been one of the most important places for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kasimpasa, his old neighborhood and his birthplace, continues to stand behind him.
Just a short walk from Galata Tower and Istanbul's central Istiklal Avenue on the European side of the city, sits Kasimpasa. It's the neighborhood where the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was born and raised 65 years ago. It's also the place where his most loyal supporters live.
A new era
Last summer, Turkey held one of the most consequential elections in the country's modern history. On June 24, 2018, Erdogan started a new five-year term and became the first Turkish president to gain unprecedented new powers. "Turkey is entering a new era," he told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the day he was sworn in as president again.
In the wake of a 2017 referendum, Erdogan managed to change the constitution from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic. That allowed Erdogan to now serve both as head or state and head of government. It was the biggest change to the country's political system since the Turkish Republic was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Here, a dress has been made out of AKP flags.
One of the family
Posters bearing Erdogan's face and AKP flags bedecked Kasimpasa for days ahead of the election. Pasted on walls or hanging from balconies, it was clear who the neighborhood supported. Opposition candidates' posters were usually found torn or vandalized. For the people of Kasimpasa, Erdogan is part of the family.
A simple background
Erdogan comes from a conservative, working class family, a background that many of his supporters can relate to. He started his political career from Kasimpasa, where he lived most of his life. He first became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, prime minister in 2003 and president of Turkey in 2014.
The residents of Kasimpasa watched the news impatiently on election day in 2018. Most of the neighborhood's cafes were packed with men who had gathered hours earlier, waiting for the official results to come out. They were embroiled in passionate political discussions as they drank Turkish coffee or hot tea on that warm summer day.
Erdogan is a local hero in Kasimpasa, someone like them who made it to the top. Though he's not exactly one of them anymore, as some of his opponents say. But for the locals nothing has changed. Why do they vote for him? "Because we love him," proclaimed one neighborhood resident who had cast a ballot for the president.
'Man from Kasimpasa' above all
Erdogan is known in the area as "Kasimpasali," or "the man from Kasimpasa." When initial results were announced on TV, people of all ages took to the streets of Kasimpasa to celebrate his victory, even though all ballots had not yet been counted. "They are traitors," a group of women said of those who voted for the opposition.
The victory parade traversed streets throughout Kasimpasa before coming to an end at the central square by the port. There people sang, danced, set off fireworks and shot rifles into the air. A giant LED screen showed the results as people hugged each other and waved AKP flags. It was Erdogan's biggest win to date, and his former neighbors celebrated for him.
Back to the voting booth
One year later, the people of Kasimpasa and the rest of Istanbul have been called to the polls once again. The March 31 mayoral election resulted in a slim win for opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu over the AKP's Binali Yildirim. Under pressure from the AKP over allegations of ballot "irregularities," the election body nullified the results and scheduled a rerun of the election for June 23.