Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, has not been seen since his controversial resignation at the beginning of November. Albayrak deleted all his social media accounts or they were deleted by the Turkish authorities, and hasn’t been heard from since.
This is quite curious, because back in August, just four months ago, senior ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) politicians were lining up to defend Albayrak, using the hashtag #BeratAlbayrakınYanındayız (#WeAreWithBeratAlbayrak). Albayrak had been criticised by the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who called for his resignation.
bu mesajlardan üç ay sonra berat albayrak ortadan kayboldu. bırak yanında olmayı, “geçmiş olsun” bile demediler. pic.twitter.com/XU7NgMlnBf
— metin cihan (@metcihan) December 18, 2020
Twitter user said, “three months after these messages, berat albayrak disappeared. they didn’t even say, “best wishes,” let alone stand with him.”
Nowadays Turkish Twitter see another hashtag trending which is #BeratAlbayrakNerede, or #WhereisBeratAlbayrak. What has happened to Albayrak? There has been speculation that he has moved to London, but curiosity is growing about what he is doing as he has not been seen for weeks.
Albayrak was only a couple of months ago was cited as the second most powerful official in the Turkish state following Erdogan but overnight he became a ghost. Albayrak and his brother Serhat were closely connected to the company Çalık Holding, which Albayrak was CEO of, and which used to own Sabah newspaper and ATV television station. Albayrak is known to be quite influential in driving the paper currently as the acting chairman of the Turkuvaz Group, which owns the said media group. The brothers were also said to be close to, or in charge of an organisation known as the Pelican Group, which undertook political muckraking. The group got famous In 2016 when they engineered the firing of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu by releasing an ultimatum.
In March, Deutsche Welle called the Pelican Group a “state within a state,’’ with Pelican-affiliated cadres being drafted in to fill the holes in institutions left by the firing of so many people following the failed 2016 coup attempt. Their influence reportedly led to prosecutions against journalists for OdaTV in July 2020.
The fact that Albayrak, who is supposed to be influential in Turkish media has not been heard since his resignation, for 41 days, has prompted a lot of Turkish media to speculate about what has exactly happened to him. Is he under house arrest? Did he go abroad? According to another gossip this time published by OdaTV, Albayrak rented an office in Istanbul, conducting his businesses there.
Of course, the Turkish state media says nothing, as was the case when Albayrak announced his resignation on Instagram, because they are unsure of what they are allowed to say. Nobody wants to annoy any of the factions within the AKP, who might end up getting more powerful, so it is easier to remain silent.
But saying nothing starts to look odd after a while. This fear of commenting on the fallout from the resignation was even parodied on Turkish sketch comedy programme Güldür Güldür Show.
Güldür Güldür’den Berat Albayrak skeci https://t.co/NSOJlBLzba
— ABC Gazetesi (@abcgazete) December 17, 2020
Elsewhere, some Gülenist-affiliated media have been speculating on their social media channels that Albayrak hasn’t appeared in public because he was beaten up by Erdogan’s cousin Ali Erdoğan, who also happens to be his bodyguard.
This speculation seems like wishful thinking from Gülen-affiliated media figures, who are keen to wish harm on anybody connected to Erdoğan as a result of the feud between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gulen, the religious sect leader the Turkish government blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup attempt.
The longer Albayrak remains incommunicado, the more speculation will be likely to appear. This is one of the big weaknesses of a state like Turkey in which the media is so controlled. When there is information the state doesn’t want anybody to know, people are left guessing.
Sabah newspaper, closely tied to Albayrak’s family, has recently published criticism of the new central bank chairman Naci Ağbal, who was also known as one of the Albayraks’ rivals in the past. Aside from this, Albayrak’s media allies and those affiliated with the Pelican Group have been noticeably quiet about Erdoğan’s decision to sideline them.
Hilal Kaplan, a leading conservative and pro-Erdoğan columnist who also is being cited as one of the co-leaders of the Pelican Group along with her husband, published a video on Wednesday on her social media account half-accepting the existence of the group while challenging Davutoglu to sue her in court. It has been previously reported that the Istanbul Court is one of the venues where the Pelican Group is most influential.
Hilal Kaplan’s brother-in-law Selman Öğüt, who is also known as one of the leading figures of the Pelican Group, was cited on Friday as stating that saying the “Pelican Group is the new FETÖ (Gülenists) is a very dangerous comparison.” Recently, many began arguing in various social platforms that the Pelican Group replaced the Gulen Group as a threat to the Turkish state and should be eliminated.
In Turkey, even if you are the President’s son in law, it doesn’t seem to be a good idea to create an influential political network within the government, or else Erdoğan might one day decide that you are becoming a bit too powerful.