A brief exchange of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Chair of a contracting company, that took place at the groundbreaking ceremony of the reconstruction of Ataturk Cultural Centre (AKM) on Sunday, was caught on an open mic and taken as a confession of a financial crisis.
While Erdogan was taking a break during his speech at the ceremony, Public Housing Development Administration, TOKI Chair Omer Bulut and several contractors jointly underwriting the reconstruction project, were talking among themselves on the stage without realising that the president’s mic was still on. The dialogue between Erdogan and Yeni Yapi Company Board Chairman, Naci Topsakal, was clearly audible.
“Who will be speaking about the money?” Erdogan is heard asking the Board Chairs.
“Mister President, we have serious issues regarding the money. Maybe we can discuss that some other time,” Topsakal is heard lamenting as a response.
Following Erdogan’s insistence, Topsakal continues by saying, “We are seriously affected. TOKI ruined us. It ruined Mister Omer.”
These comments were taken as confessions about the existence of an economic crisis, which have been consistently denied by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials.
AKM was a focal point of the 2013 Gezi protests that defied Erdogan’s increasing drive for authoritarianism. The project on the revival of a military barracks also encompassed the demolition of AKM. Erdogan, on various occasions since then, has wanted to implement the project, however, the project seems to be suspended for the time being.
Nevertheless, Erdogan managed to demolish the AKM building, which became a symbol of resistance against his rule when a gigantic banner was hung on the building during the Gezi protests in 2013 reading, “Shut up Tayyip.” The banner reportedly infuriated Erdogan and was removed after some days.
“Those who deem the old building as the centre of their ideology tried to hinder this project,” said Erdogan at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new building. “This is not a cultural centre, but it is the best response to the enemies of our motherland and people who have been threatening the nation’s determination for last five years,” exclaimed Erdogan in fervour, expressing his content with the project.