Islamist bakers in Turkey go to war against the state over president’s exit threat

The crisis that is tightening in Turkey over the president’s impending departure has set off a classic battle of the titans: Orhan Pamuk versus Cagri Cengizoglu and the Battalions of God.

This weekend, the head of the U.S.-owned Kuliner Gündogan Bakery in a central Istanbul suburb, Ehsan Aksu, presented a petition asking the governor of Sariyapur district to cancel the ultimatum President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave for bakeries in Sariyapur to stop making bread. The threat of closure in the city of 350,000 people, which has factories producing furniture, plastic, and plastics, prompted a widespread protest and kicked off a campaign that appears to span all religious communities in the city. “Aksu’s family is considered a part of the population of this nation and they love it,” according to his petition.

Erdogan’s comment was made on Saturday after he said that the management of bakeries in the district had a choice to close their factories and plants or hand over the keys. “Those can continue to make bread in their factories or hand them over to the police for 30 million lira,” he said, citing a widely quoted 2014 newspaper report that placed the total value of investment in the area at about 170 million lira. (He clarified later that the report contained a “substantial error”.)

Aksu’s petition was signed by hundreds of fellow workers and made public on Sunday and Monday. A petition said the bakeries were providing employment to about 8,500 people.

The rivalry between the two bakeries goes way back to their very beginnings. They began life as distribution hubs, were remodeled when they were sent to make bread, then were once again remodeled. They were wound down during the construction of the street-level mall that sells $1,000 Christmas trees, and kept going even after construction on a seven-story high-rise mall was completed.

That separation is not the only reason: Aksu’s bakery is regarded as an industry legacy and Cengizoglu’s is considered a darling of the new government.

“This can be seen as a vendetta between the left and the right,” one witness told The New York Times’ Elisabeth Rosenthal.

But Aksu told the newspaper that he was willing to go to jail to protect his livelihood.

“We cannot see this will go away,” he said. “It is not about fighting about [whatever way the first declaration came down]. The [state of emergency] is an attempt to remove anyone who stands in the way.”

But Cengizoglu responded by suggesting that Aksu have cookies made for the people who signed the petition, so that they could eat them. “I will have cookies sent to you, if you want,” he said.

To be fair, it’s a bit of a coincidence that the “leave the bakeries alone” petition coincidentally corresponded with Erdogan’s threat.

The state of emergency was imposed amid Turkey’s attempt to bring back a state of emergency in response to the coup attempt in 2016, when Erdogan had a fateful phone call with Trump.

But with the crisis under way, it’s not clear if such a compromise could happen.

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