TURKEY - Erdogan goes to prison


Istanbul - Turkish Daily News

Istanbul's former Islamist Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone to prison to serve a conviction for "inciting hatred based on religious differences" in a speech he made in Siirt nearly a year and a half ago.

Although he twice had the sentence converted into a monetary fine and postponed, he lost a final appeal and now has to serve 120 days of a 10-month prison sentence.

Before entering prison, Erdogan spent the day with members of his political party. He was escorted by a convoy of vehicles numbering in the hundreds to Eyup Sultan Camii, where an animal was sacrificed and prayers were offered. From there Erdogan went to Fatih Camii, accompanied by a crowd of some 2,000 people.

Following the Friday prayer service, Fatih Avenue was closed to traffic by the police because of the large crowd that had gathered. Then, the 2,000-car Erdogan convoy set out for the Pinarhisar Prison at Kirklareli where he will serve his sentence.

Near to Istanbul

The 46-year-old Erdogan himself chose to stay in Pinarhisar Prison. Kirklareli Pinarhisar has four wards and is only 190 kilometers northwest of Istanbul. However, Erdogan is to be housed in a section which that has a salon and a bedroom that have been prepared for him; he will not be in the wards with the other prisoners there.

Virtue Party (FP) members had the section in which he is staying painted. A carpet covers the floor and there is a television set, refrigerator and desk.

In addition Erdogan's food will be brought in from outside. Erdogan's wife, Emine, is expected to move to Pinarhisar for the duration and three houses have been rented in the Kirklareli district. Emine Erdogan and Erdogan's immediate family will be housed in one and the other two will be used for guests.

Erdogan was bade farewell in Istanbul as if he were the chairman of the FP. In a statement to the press, he declared: "This is not a farewell. As I have always said, I hope it is just a pause in a series of songs to be finished."

In a moving speech, he continued: "I am not saying goodbye. This is just a pause. We will continue to work on the projects we have worked on together in the past. The notes that will follow will bring Turkey peace, love, brotherhood and will continue to unite your love."

Tens of thousands of his supporters chanted, "Turkey is proud of you," as they saw him off from Istanbul.

Security was tight as the convoy followed Erdogan's car to Pinarhisar.

'We will not turn from our mission'

The speech Erdogan gave that led to his downfall and his prison sentence was delivered in 1997 in the town of Siirt, in Turkey's troubled Southeast.

The public prosecutor charged Erdogan with "inciting hatred based on religious differences" at a political rally in Siirt. During his speech, Erdogan read a poem by nationalist ideologist Ziya Gokalp, in which he said:

"Our minarets are our bayonets, Our domes are our helmets, Our mosques are our barracks. We will put a final end to ethnic segregation. No one can ever intimidate us.

"If the skies and the ground were to open against us. If floods and volcanoes were to burst, We will not turn from our mission. My reference is Islam. If I am not able to speak of this, What is the use of living?"

Banned for life

Under the court ruling, Erdogan will be banned from public life forever and will not be able to take part in politics. Friends of Erdogan, who is interested in poetry, say he will write a book of poems while in prison.

Erdogan, a former athlete and soccer star, was elected mayor in March 1994 on the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) ticket. When the RP was shut down in January 1998, he joined the Islamist Virtue Party (FP). He was removed from office last year.

In his four years as mayor, he speeded up construction of a new subway system, found new water resources for the city, built new roads and highways and modernized the fire department.

Until his conviction, he was widely viewed as the man who would eventually lead the Virtue Party.