Sons-in-law and politics, a Turkish tradition

Unlike Ottoman sons-in-law who would leave their posts by death or exile, Mr Albayrak’s departure from office was greeted with a flurry of jokes - like most of his policies whilst in office.

In the world of fairy tales, it is maidens - beautiful, kind and often wronged - who end up with the prince. However, in epic adventures, history and politics, we frequently fall into another archetype - ambitious or suave young men who marry the princess, or its current day equivalent, such as the boss’/emir’s/president’s daughter.

Connoisseurs of Ottoman history are familiar with the long line of imperial sons-in-law, damat in Turkish, from Karamanoğlu Alaaddin Bey, the first one, to Damat Ferit Paşa, the last. Neither got to live happily ever after. Aladdin Bey, who made a political match with Murat I’s daughter but kept attacking the young empire for territorial gains, was slain in the battlefield by his wife’s brother Beyazıt, the Thunderbolt. Damat Ferit Paşa, the son-in-law of Abdulmecid, served in top posts under three different Sultans as the empire struggled for survival in the 20th century. Blamed for the Empire’s acceptance of the tough terms of the Sèvres Treaty, he was exiled by the new Turkish Parliament, along with the rest of the Ottoman Dynasty. He died in Nice, France a month before the declaration of the republic. 
 
Death and/or exile were indeed the two most common ends of the Ottoman sons-in-law in high places. Most of them “devşirme” - the children of the Empire’s Christian subjects from Balkans which were cut off from their families and offered an education in the Palace - they were picked out as loyal and up-and-coming servants of the sultan before they were simply told or allowed to marry to one of the daughters of Lord of Horizons. The system had its benefits - the recruits and the princesses would never be able to start a rival dynasty of their own.
 
The sons-in-law turned viziers operated on slippery slopes. Unlike other women in the empire, the female members of the royal family were entitled to divorce their husbands. In 1541, when Süleyman the Magnificent’s headstrong sister Şah Sultan chided her conservative husband Grand Vizier Lütfi Paşa on a matter of public policy, the paşa slapped her for insolence. The imperial slap not only cost him his marriage but his job. Süleyman replaced him briefly with Hadım Süleyman Paşa - a eunuch - and gave the job to his son-in-law, Rüstem Paşa, the husband of his favourite daughter Mihrimah.
 
The tradition of sons-in-law continued in the republican era. When Metin Toker, a journalist and wit, married Özden, the daughter of İsmet İnonu, the second president of the republic known as “National Chief,” he earned the nickname “National Son-in-Law” (Milli Damat). The title became repetitive over the years - used for sons-in-law of powerful man to any foreigner who married a Turkish girl. Famous damats over the years included those of Turkey’s business tycoon Vehbi Koç (“The Emperor”) - Inan Kıraç and Erdoğan Gönül, both bright young white-collars in the company who “dared” to propose to boss’ daughters - and Asım Ekren, a musician who embraced President Turgut Özal’s daughter and a lavish lifestyle in a five-year-long marriage.
 
More pejoratively, the Turkish language also employs the term “iç güveysi” or “iç güveyi” for a damat who lives with his in-laws. If you ask someone how he is and he replies “Better than an içgüveysi,” it means he is just slightly better than downright uncomfortable.
 
This expression of discomfort is fitting to Berat Albayrak, the National Son-in-Law in the headlines for the past seven days following his unorthodox resignation with an Instagram message from his post as Economy Minister. Unlike his Ottoman counterparts who left their posts by death or exile, Mr Albayrak’s departure from office was followed by a flurry of jokes - like most of his policies whilst in office.
 
Married to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s daughter Esra, Berat - as he is often referred to in the press - has long been a butt of jests on social media ever since he made his way into politics. Serious pundits would paint him - along with his brother Serhat Albayrak, a media mogul, as top influencers in the capital or Erdoğan’s eyes-and-ears in the cabinet, his heir-apparent, but for Turkey’s lively Twittersphere, he was a not-so-bright young man whose talent lied in marrying the chief’s daughter. His infantile presentations on the economy and his alleged affair with a model fed into that image. When a leaked email allegedly showed that he had ordered a ring and other sex toys from Amazon (further news on this is banned by a court decision) he earned the nickname “Lord of the Rings.” (Esra Erdoğan Albayrak, a U.S.-trained sociologist, kept a dignified silence throughout the rumors/storms/ridicule and delivered a son in June 2020).
 
Berat’s role in the Turkish-U.S. ties as part of the trio of damats was picked up by the New York Times in an article last year, which claimed that three sons-in-law who married into power - Berat, First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner and ex-media mogul’s son-in-law Mehmet Yalçındağ - played key roles in connecting Ankara with Washington. Turkish analysts say that the electoral loss of US President Donald Trump - and the end of Kushner’s cellphone diplomacy - hastened Berat’s departure. 
 
Analysts more versed in economics and politics have - and will - analyse the impact of the resignation and whether it was a loss or gain for President Erdoğan. For what it is worth, I simply offer four rules of thumb for success in the son-in-law path:
 
1.Keep your wife happy and in the picture - in others words, no playing around with models that would send her complaining to her powerful papa.
 
2. Remain loyal to you father-in-law and refrain from public fights with his entourage because these men around the chief are capable of delivering the fatal blow behind your back.
 
3.Try to be at least marginally good at what you do, so you would not be the first-to-be-dropped liability as the patriarch’s popularity fades.
 
4. Go away quietly, patiently waiting him to switch you to another post rather than post your resignation on Instagram or dance on Tik-Tok.