Could a seven-year-old Australian interview influence the outcome of the Turkish presidential elections? Leading Turkish newspapers say it’s possible.

He might be campaigning to become the next president of Turkey in May, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is this week under political fire over comments he made during his visit to Australia in 2000. In an interview with SBS radio’s Turkish language program, Erdogan used a “respectful” title when referring to the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan.

Calling Ocalan – now jailed over terror charges – “honourable/esteemed” has landed the Prime Minister in hot water. Erdogan has been highly criticised for using such a title in reference to the PKK leader; a party that is now banned as a terrorist organisation in both Turkey and Australia.

According to Emin Colasan, a senior columnist for the highly influential Hurriyet newspaper, the Prime Minister has gone “one step too far”. Giving the title of “honourable” to someone who has claimed thousands of military personnel and civilian lives in the fight against the terrorist network is simply unacceptable, he says. Previously, Turkish Democratic Party (DTP) politicians have been convicted and jailed for periods between six and 18 months for using the same title when also referring to Ocalan. Colasan queries whether Erdogan will also be charged over his comments.

Soon after this news hit the mainstream media in Turkey, audio recordings of the SBS interview were splashed all over YouTube.

Leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, lashed out at the Prime Minister, claiming that no politician or official would ever use the title “honourable/esteemed” to describe Ocalan. How is it possible, he says, that a presidential candidate could? In other words, imagine if George Bush started Osama bin Laden “sir”.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul claimed that Baykal’s remarks were “exaggerated and untrue”, arguing that his comments were mere political tactics used to attack the Government in the months leading to the elections.

But it’s not all bad news for Erdogan. As far as we know, there were no lunches with Brian Burke.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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