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Turkish strongman Erdogan launches PR campaign in Central Park

The authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided on Saturday to soften his public image by taking a walk in New York’s Central Park, which he visits to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

According to the Turkish public administration Andalusian AgencyNew Yorkers were delighted to discover Erdogan and a few high-ranking members of the Turkish diplomatic mission holding a bench in Central Park and chewing grease with random passers-by:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was accompanied by Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington Hasan Murat Mercan and Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu, Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

He caught the attention of those in the park, interacted with them and also took pictures.

Sitting on a bench, a person came across him and thanked him for his role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. “I wanted to thank you for all the work in Ukraine…for the grain that comes through…and for helping to strengthen NATO. I am very proud,” he said. “Thanks a lot.”

Erdogan also advised a couple who approached him not to smoke.

Erdogan is a devoted non-smoker who has recently been collection packs of cigarettes from people he convinces to quit while he is travelling. The New York couple reportedly continued to huff after he warned them.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) speaks with citizens in Central Park ahead of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, United States, September 17, 2022. (Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Turkish media seem very impressed with the man who thanked Erdogan for his help with grain exports from Ukraine, while the Daily Sabah quote it too. Erdogan’s government touts its role in brokering the grain deal between Russia and Ukraine as a landmark achievement. At the end of July, a “coordination centre” was officially established in Istanbul to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

Some of Erdogan’s critics on social media have admitted that it was a smart move for him to mingle while being accompanied by a relatively small security presence, given the reputation for brutality suspended above his bodyguards.

Turkish strongman Erdogan launches PR campaign in Central Park

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (3rd L) speaks with Turkish citizens in Central Park ahead of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, United States, September 17, 2022. (Murat Kula/ Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Jerusalem Post tipped his hat to Erdogan for managing to have a friendly and seemingly random meeting with a rabbi, Rachel Goldenberg, even as Turkey prepares for a diplomatic reconciliation with Israel at the UN this week.

Middle Eastern Eye thought Erdogan was enjoying his pre-General Assembly charm offensive enough in New York to skip Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London. As well as walking in Central Park, Erdogan met Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) at Turkish House, the headquarters of Turkey’s mission to the UN, and may meet President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the General Assembly :

The last time the two leaders met was on the sidelines of the NATO summit in June. Subsequently, Erdogan agreed to lift a veto which paved the way for Sweden and Finland to join the strategic defense alliance. A day after Turkey lifted its veto, the Biden administration backed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara.

Nevertheless, Erdogan also recently announced his intention to join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, another Washington adversary. Bloomberg reported that Erdogan’s announcement came as he tried to secure a one-on-one meeting with Biden, which has yet to be confirmed.

Turkey and the United States have unresolved issues. Washington has angered Ankara with its military support for Kurdish groups in Syria that Turkey sees as a threat to its national security.

For his part, Erdogan annoyed representatives of both parties in the United States by insisting on buying Russian surface-to-air missiles. and the advanced NATO warplanes that these missiles are meant to shoot down.

Erdogan may also find himself at odds with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who blame Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan for renewing hostilities with Armenia during a visit to the latter country over the weekend. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Monday that Pelosi’s “one-sided” remarks could “sabotage diplomatic efforts” and asked the Biden administration to clarify whether it supported Pelosi’s position.

Erdogan could face a tough re-election campaign in 2023. Kurdish parties are mobilization against him for his attacks on Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq, and the fragmented opposition seems more determined than ever to unite behind a candidate who could overthrow him. Unfortunately for them, almost all of the plausible opposition candidates seem alienate about a quarter of the Turkish electorate.

Erdogan’s popularity is waning as Turkey’s economy collapses, a problem he apparently wants to remedy by seeking economic aid from Russia. The Jerusalem Post reported last week that several candidates are ahead of Erdogan in head-to-head polls, but the candidates are likely to dilute support between them during the election and pave the way for Erdogan’s victory.

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