The rise and fall of Turkey’s Young Erdoganists

In today's Turkey, you may often come across young privileged Erdoğanists who are ready to lecture everyone about how important Islam and traditional Turkish values are, but behind closed doors, they lead very different lives. They consume alcohol and drugs. They have sex with people of the opposite and same sex. They represent a new generation of political Islamists who feed the authoritarian system by preaching its proclaimed values while enjoying all the freedoms money can buy.

Over the last couple of weeks, Turkey’s digital world has been discussing a video of a young man doing cocaine in his car with a group of friends. What made the video extra intriguing was the fact that the main character in the video was a member of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He was detained briefly by the police to whom he testified, and is now under house arrest.

24-year old Kürşat Ayvatoğlu began his political career in the municipality of Kastamonu, a mid-sized city in Turkey’sBlack Sea region. He was first employed by the municipality as a graphic designer, but proved himself useful andquickly moved through the ranks. After the AKP lost the 2019 local elections in Kastamonu, Ayvatoğlu moved to Ankara. His life changed drastically in Turkey’s capital city; He admits that through his political contacts he met “strong people with influence.”

Upon arriving in Ankara, Ayvatoğlu began working at the AKP headquarters. At the same time, his passion for cars helped him start his own business renovating used cars and reselling them. Thus, he managed to build both entrepreneurial and political careers parallel to each other.
Ayvatoğlu’s social media accounts were full of photos depicting his supposedly lavish lifestyle: driving in luxurious cars, spending time in expensive hotels, and enjoying night outs at high-end clubs. It looked as if the move to the capitol had really taken him over.

While I spoke to Ayvatoğlu in an interview he sounded very apologetic. He seemed genuinely ashamed of having the cocaine video exposed. However, he simultaneously admitted that he joined the AKP primarily because he loved Erdoğan and secondly because he wanted to connect with wealthy and influential people. He wanted to be in the “network.”

I asked him if he thought his lifestyle contradicted the proclaimed values of the party he worked for; At the end of the day, the AKP’s ideology of political Islam has been centered around building a conservative religious society with a devout, proud, but humble following. This is exemplified in Turkey’s recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, claiming it hurt the country’s traditional family values.

Ayvatoğlu did not have an answer to this question. He simply explained he wanted a comfortable life, a good life, and to be able to have a good time. In his mind, it seems the easiest way to achieve such a life was to become a memberof the political elite.

Ayvatoğlu is just one of many. Images of young men, in flashy suits, driving expensive cars with prayer beads in their hands, is a typical scene in the so-called “AKP neighborhoods” of Ankara. While speaking, these men usually use the same wording President Erdoğan uses in his speeches. They have Ottoman symbols on their outfits and jewelry.  They will be more than happy to tell you about how important Islam and traditional Turkish values are, and how such values should be imposed on everyone everywhere.

Behind closed doors, however, these men lead different lives. They consume alcohol and drugs and they have sex with people of the opposite and same sex. They represent a new generation of political Islamists who feed the authoritarian system by preaching its proclaimed values, but because they are part of the political elite, they do not see themselves as bound to these values. They enjoy all the freedoms money can buy. They believe they have a right to everything, simply because they are on the “righteous” side. Most of them are luckier that Ayvatoğlu, as they are powerful enough to keep their private lives from being exposed.

In today’s Turkey, life is easier for the Erdoğanist minority. So why should they hesitate to take advantage of their privileges to the fullest extent?