It hasn’t been an easy week for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and now he’s been accused of engaging in baldly thuggish behaviour.
In a video published by left-wing Turkish media, a man who appears to be Erdogan lashes out at protestors in Soma, site of a mine disaster that’s killed upwards of 270 people, calling for his resignation. At 1:54, a man begins muttering something, before Erdogan lunges at a member of the crowd:
The audio is muffled. And although this video appears to show the man in charge of the world’s 18th-largest economy getting hostile with a group of protestors, both the target and intent of the statements at the end of the video are far from obvious. Some experts believe the voice to be Erdogan’s, but there’s little way of knowing for sure that the voice belongs to him.
Not much about the video is clear, but one transcription of his statement is “Niye kaciyorsun ulan Israil dolu?” According to two Turkish-language experts Business Insider consulted, this roughly translates to “Why are you running, you Israeli offspring?” or “Hey buddy, why are you running, Israeli scum!” (The sentence has some vulgarities that are not easily translated into English.)
Merve Tahiroglu of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies stresses that it’s not clear whether Erdogan spoke the words on the tape, or even what’s being said. But she walked Business Insider through some of the less translatable portions of the tape.
“Dolu could mean offspring, sperm, or seed. I would not translate it as ‘son’ because ‘dol’ is a far more vulgar word,” she said.
“Ulan” is similarly edgy language.
“It’s a colloquial and culture-specific term,” with no English equivalent,
Tahiroglu said. “The best way to explain it would be to say it’s a term men use to address each other when they are in an argument or fight.”
The fact that it proceeds “Israeli offspring” indicates that that term is being used in a specifically derogatory context, she said.
Less ambiguous is the video below, translated by Business Insider Turkish linguist and defence reporter Jeremy Bender.
“If you boo the country’s Prime Minister, you get a slap!” Erdogan informs one a protester. It turns out he wasn’t kidding.
The recent Erdogan video comes at a rough time. Earlier this week, a car bomb exploded on the Syrian-Turkish border, killing over 40 people and highlighting Turkey’s ongoing vulnerability to events next door.
And in the west of the country, the death of over 270 people in a coal mine disaster in the town of Soma has rekindled protests against Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, which began with the Gezi Park demonstrations in May of 2013.
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