Who will fill the shoes of Berat Albayrak, the gatekeeper for the Erdogans
The fallout from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son-in-law and Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak's resignation continues. Veteran journalist İsmet Berkan, in a long column for the website Haftalik Gazete, argued that Albayrak had been fulfilling several important duties in the state apparatus around Erdoğan, and was a forceful actor in the government. Berkan wrote that it might be impossible to know for the time being the full extent of the wreck Albayrak caused with his rocky departure.
According to Berkan and a few others who have written an ‘insider’ account about the resignation of Albayrak, the son-in-law’s true entry to the family’s business coincided with 17-25 2013, corruption cases and scandals in which Albayrak was instrumental to help Erdoğan’s family push back against the police investigations targeting them. Leaked phone conversations have shown that Albayrak was on the phone helping to diversify the family’s finances and making strategic decisions to overcome the pressure on the Erdoğan family.
Berkan described Albayrak's function around Erdoğan as a “gatekeeper” who decides what the president should hear or see. According to the journalist, Albayrak was also in charge of what news the media should print, or which businessman would get hit with what penalty, or who would be appointed to chair this or that district branch of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Albayrak was also using some of that influence to secure his own future, Berkan wrote.
Berat Albayrak met his wife Esra Erdoğan in the United States when both were studying there. Rumour has it that the son-in-law specifically crossed the ocean to study at the same time as Erdoğan’s eldest daughter was. Afterwards, the young Albayrak became the CEO of one of the biggest energy companies in Turkey, Çalık Holding, in his early 30s. He was appointed the energy minister in 2015, and he served for nearly three years. Even before he was appointed as the powerful finance and treasury minister, he had been exercising a considerable influence on other ministries.
Albayrak has appointed many people to a large number of public or quasi-public institutions. His father Sadık Albayrak also comes from the Islamist Milli Görüş (“National Vision”) movement, and is a well-known figure among Islamist media. The Albayrak family owns Turkuvaz Media, one of the largest media groups in the country. The Pelican group led by the former minister is Erdoğan’s most powerful troll army, according to a former member of the group, journalist Fırat Erez, and it focuses on slandering political opponents on social networks and spreading disinformation.
The Ottoman mansion on the Bosporus that the group used as its headquarters and the salaries of its staff were financed by the Medipol private hospital group, run by Erdoğan's close confidant and Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, Erez added.
Recently it was reported that Selman Öğüt, one of the most visible actors within the Pelican group, either quit or was fired from the Medipol University, also owned by Koca.
The question is not only who is going to fill the big shoes of Berat Albayrak, who in effect was a whisperer to Erdoğan's ears, but also what will happen to those who owe their status and/or jobs to Albayrak in all those institutions. Is Albayrak leaving the political scene forever?
It doesn't seem like there is any candidate within the Justice and Development Party who can exactly replace the role that Albayrak filled, but there are rivals for his position who certainly benefit from him losing power. The most obvious person in this category is Süleyman Soylu, who is the only other AKP figure with an independent power base and wide support within the party.
The other person who benefits, though does not have the power of Soylu is Ibrahim Kalin, the Presidential spokesperson, who benefits from the weakening of the Pelican group. Kalin was seen as being in competition with the other Presidential spokesperson, Fahrettin Altun. Altun's proximity to the Albayrak family, however, also means he may lose favour, and again largely benefits Kalin.