Upon learning of the death of the iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered these condolences, which were reportedly sent via telegram(!) to South Africa: “I am very sad for Mandela’s death. Things that Mandela did laid a great mark not only to the people living in South Africa but on the whole world. The honorable struggle for his people will always be remembered in respect for centuries.”
But when time came for the Turkish leader to pack his bags for Soweto, Erdoğan decided not to go. Despite the attendance of over 90 heads of state and tens of thousands of selfie-taking world leaders and mourners, Erdoğan sent Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay in his stead. And that is when the world erupted!
Erdoğan “is determined not to be a part” of the world one liberal Turkish columnist scribbled angrily. The columnist added that Erdoğan, the premier of a G20 nation, “is not the smug, petty, vindictive, waffling, in-your-face insulting man he seems. He’s something worse.” Turkish authorities, careful to safeguard their rank of #138 in the Press Freedom Index, quietly carted the journalist off to jail for 25 years.
The backlash against Erdoğan wasn’t limited to a domestic furor. Bloggers from an obscure anti-Turkish site, after committing to exegesis Erdoğan’s lackluster tribute to Mandela, decided to use his absence at Mandela’s funeral as a fundraising ploy to line their coffers.
Around the region, others suggested that Erdoğan’s absence was retributive for old tensions between the Mandela government and Turkey from the early 1990s. Elsewhere yet, some suggested that Erdoğan hadn’t gone to Soweto because he wished to avoid embarrassment for the historic Turkish denial of genocide against the Armenians and persecution of Christians. Others chalked it up to the obvious parallels between Mandela’s struggle against apartheid and the Kurdish struggle for independence against the Turks.
Upon hearing these reports all the way in South Africa, Robert Mugabe, Paul Biya, Hassan Rouhani, and Raul Castro (as well as delegations from the thirteen countries where you can be put to death by the state for being an atheist) reportedly all laughed. “Poor Erdoğan,” one was caught saying on a hot mic. “Guy can’t catch a break.”