Can Erdogan's Enemies Kill Him With Their Minds?

Marc Champion writes editorials on international affairs. He was previously Istanbul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He was also an editor at the Financial Times, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times and a correspondent for the Independent in Washington, the Balkans and Moscow. He is based in London.
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Recently, I asked whether Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan believed his own conspiracy theories about the anti-government protests that began in an Istanbul park at the end of May. His appointment this week of a new chief adviser suggests Erdogan may have embraced a dark fantasy world.

The new man with the prime minister's ear, Yigit Bulut, previously was the editor-in-chief of the television station Kanal 24, and has been a point man for conspiracy theories about the Gezi Park protests. His analysis has included the following interesting ideas:

-- That the German airline Lufthansa was behind the protests, because it feels threatened by Erdogan's plans to build a third airport for Istanbul that would be the largest in Europe and would compete with Frankfurt, Lufthansa's hub, for air traffic between Europe and the East;

-- That "In many centers there is work going on to kill Erdogan from afar, through methods such as telekinesis";

-- That Germany and England were in on the plot, having also been responsible for the Turkish military's hanging of former Prime Minster Adnan Menderes in 1961, following a coup;

-- That Germany owns 65 percent of Turkish media (it doesn't);

-- And that an "interest-rate lobby" has been conspiring to drive up Turkey's borrowing costs, because the banks and speculators who comprise the lobby are making less money by lending to the government than they used to before Erdogan took power. Back then, Turkey suffered from inflation rates as high as 60 percent and interest rates were commensurate.

Bulut appears to have a particular antipathy for Turkey's big banks, a concern now that they are under scrutiny in a Capital Markets Board probe to determine if speculators engaged in short selling of Turkish markets in the period leading up to the protests.

As a conspiracy theorist convinced that external powers are out to get Turkey, Bulut has been consistent. But not so long ago, he was an ultra-nationalist and a fierce critic of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party. As recently as 2008, he warned that the mildly Islamist party was leading the country down the same path as Nazi Germany.

The conspiracy theories Bulut now espouses aren't his alone. Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan has been just as wild in concocting interest-rate lobby fantasies, and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, both of whom are genuine economists who know better, have loyally toed the line. All are taking their cue from Erdogan.

In hiring Bulut, the prime minister has amplified the echo chamber that he has created around him and in a system where power is tightly concentrated around the prime minister, that is a worrying sign for Turkey.

(Marc Champion is a Bloomberg View editorial board member.Follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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