President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, no doubt, Turkey’s prime opinion shaper, never short of surprises for Turkish and international audiences. While receiving Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Jan. 12, he delivered another shot from his unrivaled arsenal. This one, however, produced an unintended consequence. Surely, he did not plan to amuse the public and unwittingly trigger an avalanche of jokes in a society long bereft of humor.
Turkish society, as those familiar with Turkish language and culture would agree, once had a reputation for an abundance of humor. One finds remarkable representations of political satire from the late Ottoman period through the early republic. Under the most adverse conditions of the 35-year reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (a notorious censor), during the republic's rule by Kemal Ataturk and under Ismet Inonu's leadership (which coincided with World War II), Turkey produced prominent humorists, among them Esref and Neyzen Tevfik. The second half of the 20th century witnessed the immortal Aziz Nesin (notwithstanding his several prison terms for his political views), whose satirical short stories were best-sellers during the 1960s and '70s.