06/01/2015, 00.00
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Erdogan’s campaign centred on Islam and nationalism

As head of state, he is constitutionally barred from party politics. However, he is holding rally after rally appealing to conservative Muslim voters. A video from the ruling party released to commemorate the conquest culminates with the Muslim call to prayer being recited from a minaret at Saint Sophia, which is now a museum.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – As Turkey’s election campaign entered its final week, the outcome will prove decisive for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to turn Turkey into a presidential republic. To reach his goal, he is playing up religion and Ottomanism, as foundations of the country’s national identity.

“We will not give space to those who want to extinguish the fire of conquest burning in the heart of İstanbul for 562 years," he told a sea of supporters waving the red Turkish flag, most of the women covered in the Islamic headscarf. The reference was to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Symbolising rising religious-nationalist sentiments, an AK Party video released to commemorate the conquest culminated with the Muslim call to prayer being recited from a minaret at Saint Sophia.

Once the greatest eastern Christian basilica, the building is now a museum. However, many conservative Muslim Turks would like to see it go back to being a mosque, as it was during the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan himself has been open to the idea.

Constitutionally banned from party politics as head of state, Erdoğan has nonetheless spoken around the country in recent weeks, appealing to conservative Muslim Turks who feel they were treated as second-class citizens during decades of rule by secular parties.

Speaking scornfully of the old secular elite, he once said, "They drink their whisky on the Bosporus . . . and hold the rest of the people in contempt".

Finally, in order to have a big crowd on Saturday 30 May, Erdogan postponed the celebration for the capture of Constantinople, which falls on 29 May.

This is not the first time that the Turkish president plays with the dates of history. Traditionally, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign is commemorated on 25 April, but this year, Erdogan had it moved up by a day so that it would fall on 24 April, the day when many countries remember the Armenian genocide.

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