AKP lawmaker accuses opposition Istanbul candidate of building ‘idol’ to Turks’ enemies

İbrahim Aydemir, a deputy for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has accused the main opposition’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul of building an “idol” to a Greek Cypriot leader he said had “murdered dozens of Turks”, secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported on Thursday.

Aydemir was referring to a statue the secularist Republican People’s Party candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu put up in the Istanbul district of Beylikdüzü, which he ran as mayor between 2014 and 2019.

Repeating claims published this week in the Islamist pro-government daily Yeni Şafak, the AKP deputy said İmamoğlu had put up an “idol” to Archbishop Makarios, the first president of Cyprus after the island gained independence in 1960.

In fact, the statue is of Rauf Denktaş, the first president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and only depicts Makarios at the negotiating table with Denktaş.

“Who is this Makarios? He is the one who killed dozens of our brothers in Cyprus, and devoted his life to enmity with Turkish Islam”, Aydemir said.

“Now they’ve immortalised him in Beylikdüzü. If this man (İmamoğlu) wins in Istanbul, he will bring into full force what he started in Beylikdüzü”, he said.

İmamoğlu beat the AKP’s candidate Binali Yıldırım by a small margin in the initial mayoral vote on March 31. The loss of Istanbul, the country’s most populous city and financial powerhouse, was a shock for the ruling party, which had defined the March 31 local elections as a “matter of survival”.

On May 6, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council ruled in favour of an appeal by the AKP, which had alleged serious irregularities took place in the March 31 vote and demanded an annulment.

The ruling party has appeared nervous of İmamoğlu’s continued popularity ahead of the June 23 rerun. AKP lawmakers have launched personal attacks on the CHP candidate accusing him of secretly being Greek, evoking prejudices held by some Turks about their countrymen from the Black Sea region.

İmamoğlu responded on Wednesday with an Eid al-Fitr tour of Black Sea cities, including his hometown of Trabzon, where he was greeted by crowds of thousands.

On Thursday, footage circulated on social media that showed Ahmed Hamdi Çamlı, a former AKP lawmaker, equating voting for İmamoğlu with voting for the United States.

Çamlı is known for his close relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who he worked for as a driver for decades.