World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkey is remembering the late former prime minister Prof. Dr. Necmettin Erbakan.
Erbakan was born in Sinop, at the coast of Black Sea in northern Turkey. After he graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty at the Istanbul Technical University (ITU) in 1948, he received a PhD degree from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany.
On returning to Turkey, Erbakan became lecturer at ITU and was appointed professor in 1965 at the same university. After working some time in leading position in the industry, he switched over to politics, and was elected deputy of the Konya province in 1969.
In the 1970s, Erbakan became the chairman of the National Salvation Party which, at its peak, served in coalition with the Republican People's Party of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.
During this time, Erbakan adopted the nickname 'Conqueror of Cyprus', his government sent Turkish troops to intervene in Cyprus on July 20, 1974 to save Turkish Cypriots who were endangered after far-right Greek militant group EOKA conducted a coup on the island in a bid to unite it with Greece.
In the wake of a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Erbakan and his party were banned from politics. He reemerged following a referendum to lift the ban in 1987 and became the leader of Refah Party (Welfare Party). He led his party to a surprise success in the general elections of 1995.
After he became prime minister in 1996, in addition to trying to follow an economic welfare program, which was supposedly intended to increase welfare among Turkish citizens, he attempted to implement multi-dimensional political approach to relations with the neighboring countries.
His harsh criticisms of western foreign policy on Turkey and the Muslim world, as well as his Islamically rooted rhetoric in his speeches, raised much concern among high-rank soldiers in the Turkish army, which was tasked to preserve Turkey's staunchly secular constitution.
In 1997, Turkey's top prosecutor charged his party with being "a focal point for anti-secular activities" and he was forced to step down as the premier the same year, in what became known as Turkey's notorious February 28 military coup. The party was shutdown by the country's Constitutional Court in January 1998, and the court banned Erbakan from politics for a period of five years.
After this coup, which was the fourth in the Turkish Republic's history, fatal blows were dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms to all Turks as the rule of law were suspended, particularly in regards to religious life.
However, Erbakan was not just active in politics. He was the founder of Turkey's Islamic-rooted National Vision movement, otherwise known as 'Milli Gorus,' which also branched out to form a number of organizations including Turkey's Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which sent the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade.
He was also one of the founding members of the Developing Eight (D8), a economic alliance of developing countries with large Muslim populations, consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Despite often being under political ban, Erbakan nonetheless acted as a mentor and informal advisor to former RP members who founded the Virtue Party in 1997. The Virtue Party was found unconstitutional in 2001 and banned; by that time Erbakan's ban on political activities had ended and he founded the Felicity Party, of which he was the leader in 2003–2004 and again from 2010 onwards.
Although he was only prime minister for one year, he remained as one of Turkey's most loved and respected politicians in its history as a republic. His death on February 27, 2011, was mourned by friends and foes alike. His funeral in Istanbul's conservative Fatih district was attended by up to two million who had traveled from both inside and outside the country to pay their respects.
One of his main political rivals, former Turkish opposition leader Deniz Baykal, was among the many mourners who were struggling to fit into the historic Fatih mosque. Baykal stood side by side with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as one of Erbakan's former students, shed tears for his political mentor.
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