A new video showing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan having difficulty walking has fueled an ongoing controversy about the president’s well-being, with many saying Erdoğan might have to soon leave office.
In the video footage, dated Oct. 29, when Turkey marked the 98th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Erdoğan is seen standing among Turkish flags at his presidential palace after accepting congratulations from guests for Republic Day. Following an announcement about the end of the ceremony, Erdoğan turns left to leave the hall, walking with apparent difficulty, with his legs bent and body moving forward while his hands remain motionless. His assistants hastily take away obstacles in front of him to clear his way.
The video, which went online on Monday evening, was watched and commented on by millions of people in several hours.
Many recalled that Erdoğan in 2002 called on then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit to resign when Ecevit appeared to have health problems, claiming he was incapable of carrying out his duties as prime minister. Erdoğan was at the time the leader of his newly established Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power several months after his call on Ecevit to resign.
Some social media users claimed that Erdoğan was wearing specially designed shoes that help maintain balance and are generally worn by the elderly. The cost of these shoes is around 9,000 euros.
Over the past several months, speculation has been mounting about Erdoğan’s health, particularly after he was seen in public having difficulty speaking and moving.
In October, Steven A. Cook, an expert on the Middle East and Africa, wrote in an article in Foreign Policy that evidence raising some obvious questions about Erdoğan’s health was growing, enumerating recent incidents where the president is seen needing the assistance of his wife and an aide as he negotiates a set of stairs, seeming to shuffle and having some difficulty walking at the Anıtkabir mausoleum, and fading out and slurring his words during a televised holiday greeting to members of his ruling AKP.
He pointed to the possibility that another strongman could rule a post-Erdoğan Turkey, listing National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu among the possible candidates for the office.
Following the publication of the article, Erdoğan shared a video on his Telegram channel of him playing basketball. In the video he wears uniform number 15 with “R. Tayyip Erdoğan” printed on it. He is also the team captain and is seen encouraging his teammates.
Critics interpreted the move as a bid to dismiss the speculation about Turkey’s leader, whose 19-year rule may be contested in the 2023 elections as many Turks grapple with poverty and inflation, and support from his base appears to be declining by the day.
One week after the publication of Cook’s article, Erdoğan’s director of communications, Fahrettin Altun, made a statement on Twitter, describing the claim in Cook’s article suggesting Erdoğan might be too ill to run for re-election in 2023 as “fake news.”
“Fake news used to be a problem on social media. It seems that the mainstream media, too, suffers from the same issue now. That even major organizations spread such lies is deeply concerning,” Altun tweeted, along with a screenshot of the article.
In the meantime, Erdoğan, who had been scheduled to fly to Glasgow to attend a climate summit after attending the G-20 Summit in Rome over the weekend, returned to Turkey on Monday and cited unmet demands regarding security as the reason for his decision to skip the Glasgow summit. However, claims surfaced that the real reason behind Erdoğan’s decision to skip the event was his health problems.
Erdoğan reaching out for the shoulder of one of his aides following a family photo during the G-20 summit in Rome has also been interpreted as a sign of his poor health.