Erdoğan purges photo with businessman in latest erasure of his past

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appealed to a court to have his photos with a Turkish businessman involved in a money-laundering scheme in the United States removed from online outlets, TELE1 television reported on Monday.

Erdoğan's lawyers appealed to courts saying Sezgin Baran Korkmaz was creating a false narrative that the Turkish president stood behind him, according to TELE1. 

L-R: Jacob Ortell Kingston, Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Çağlar Şendil
L-R: Jacob Ortell Kingston, Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Çağlar Şendil (Photo by Ihlas Haber Ajansı)

One of the photos in question, dating back to 2017, feature Korkmaz, his American business partner Jacob Kingston and his right-hand man Çağdaş Şendil next to Erdoğan. There are other similar photos as well, which appear to be taken on the same day.

Sezgin Baran Korkmaz with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Sezgin Baran Korkmaz with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Behind, Erdoğan's son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak. Source: superhaber.tv

An Istanbul court recently approved an appeal to seize all assets of Korkmaz and Kingston in Turkey, alongside a dozen others involved in a decade-long scheme to defraud the U.S. government of at least $470 million.

Erdoğan had met Korkmaz to discuss investments in Turkey by the companies involved in the scheme, Washakie Renewable Energy (WRE) owned by the Kingstons and SBK Holding owned by Korkmaz. The photo taken on the day of the meeting was first published by Nate Carlisle reporting for the Salt Lake Tribune.

Korkmaz was involved with Erdoğan’s efforts to get an early foot in with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump as well.

The purge isn’t the first time Erdoğan has moved to distance himself from one-time allies.

In 2016, former president Abdullah Gül found his name removed from the list of founders in Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) alongside 12 others, including former ambassador and AKP’s first foreign minister, Yaşar Yakış.

Yakış in a later article wrote that then prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu probably had a say in his expulsion from the party. In 2019, Davutoğlu would share the same fate – expelled from the AKP, and his name purged from the party’s history after serving as minister and prime minister in several AKP governments.

In 2019, a timeline AKP released on the 18th anniversary of its founding had left no trace of either Gül or Davutoğlu.

AKP 18th anniversary
"A story of love for the nation - AK Party"

Erdoğan assumed the office of the president in Aug. 2014 as the first Turkish president to be elected by popular vote. He had to resign as the chairman of the AKP, a title he left to Davutoğlu, who assumed his new role of prime minister two weeks later. He remained in office until May 2016, when he resigned. Erdoğan’s close ally Binali Yıldırım replaced Davutoğlu as prime minister.

The timeline noted Erdoğan’s presidency and Yıldırım’s prime ministry, with no mention of Davutoğlu in between.

“I congratulate the actors whose service, struggle and visionary point of view, and the nameless heroes whose sincerity I witnessed during my time as party chairman,” Davutoğlu tweeted after the erasure.

Before his complete fallout with Erdoğan and expulsion from AKP in 2016, when Davutoğlu was replaced by Yıldırım, a district chapter of the party replaced the former minister in a decidedly non-subtle fashion – by sticking a photograph of Yıldırım’s head over a Davutoğlu poster hanging outside the building.

There have been instances of historic alterations that were more closely reminiscent of Stalin’s great purges, with Erdoğan attempting to rid the Internet of his photograph sitting at the feet of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former prime minister of Afghanistan with alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Erdoğan later personally signed off on designating Hekmatyar a terrorist.

Another photo Erdoğan scrapped featured a handshake with Muammar Gaddafi when he won the Gaddafi Human Rights Award, as well as former Greek prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis kissing his wife, Emine Erdoğan, on her cheek.

In 1995, back when Erdoğan was the mayor of Istanbul, he officiated the wedding of famous football player Hakan Şükür.

Islamic cleric now accused by Ankara of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt, Fethullah Gülen, was a witness in the wedding ceremony.

“Groom Hakan Şükür is now a terrorist, witness Fethullah Gülen a terrorist leader, officiant Tayyip Erdoğan is the president,” actor Orhan Aydın wrote in 2017.

Starting with 2013’s corruption probes, once close allies Erdoğan and Gülen grew further apart and more hostile until 2016.

Şükür, who entered parliament under Erdoğan’s AKP before the fallout and resigned in 2013, was also assumed to be involved with the failed coup attempt and currently lives in the United States. Erdoğan’s many photos with Gülen have quietly disappeared from official pages and pro-government media archives.

In March last year, a secret witness told a court handling the case against Gülen’s followers that Erdoğan falling off a horse in 2003 had been a Gülenist conspiracy.

Photographs of this incident can be found online, but are understandably not the president’s favourites. According to the secret witness, the Gülenists drugged Erdoğan’s horse in an attempt to kill him.