Is Ekrem Imamoglu a Turkish-Greek?

Pro-government media’s groundless charge against deposed Istanbul mayor reveals the lasting dark legacy of Turkey’s unfinished nation-building and haunting specter of ethnonationalism.

Abdullah Ayasun

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Ekrem Imamoglu. (Photo: Turkish media)

The 18-day tenure as Istanbul mayor made Ekrem Imamoglu an implacable foe in the eyes of the ruling party and its supporters in Turkey, while turning him to a rare figure of national hopes for political salvation among the divided and disgruntled opposition. Across pro-government media outlets, not a single day passes without an assault on Imamoglu, digging every minute of his mayoralty, ascribing all the blame for the follies and blunders of the past decade on a man who only governed Turkey’s largest city for 18 days.

Spin doctors and die-hard columnists made Imamoglu-bashing a favorite sport ahead of June 23 re-run of Istanbul election. But a recent charge against him recalled some sort of Trumpian birtherism claims against former U.S. President Barack Obama, taking electoral controversy into a completely different terrain fraught with steep moral and ethical issues.

AKP Esenler Mayor Tevfik Goksu, attending a Ramadan event, questioned Imamoglu’s ethnic origins, implying that he would be of Greek origin from Turkey’s Black Sea region. He grounded his claim on a story appeared on Greek media. The Greek Ethnos daily, according to Goksu, ran the headline “A Greek Who Conquered Istanbul.”

“Why do Greek media say “a Greek won Istanbul” and there is no word here?” he asked in a veiled address to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the former Istanbul mayor. The story by Ethnos stirred up an impassioned debate on social media. The pro-government figures saw it as a boon.

Former Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek joined the fray. Sharing links of the Greek media on Twitter, he demanded an explanation from Imamoglu.

When asked, the politician swiftly denied such claims as absurd and groundless in a televised interview on CNN Turk this week. For whatever his efforts, the…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun