The Turkish “Drone Lord” who can succeed Erdogan

Once again Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has amazed the diplomacies of half the world in july by receiving his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky and freeing the commanders of the Azov regiment. At the NATO summit in Vilnius, it gave Sweden the green light to join the organization while continuing to intercede in negotiations for the renewal of wheat agreements. This whirlwind of foreign policy interventions confirms his role as Turkey’s most powerful man with an indisputable influence in the entire Eurasian chessboard. Analysts wonder who, however, will one day be able to succeed such a cumbersome figure who, after the recent victory at the polls, has already announced that he does not want to run again.

The Sultan would actually already be working to ensure political continuity by focusing on an equally popular compatriot. This is Selçuk Bayraktar, brother of Haluk, the CEO of the Baykar company that produces the Bayraktar TB2 drones. An engineer developing avionics technology, Selçuk is also Prime Minister Erdogan’s son-in-law – he married Sümeyye, his youngest daughter – and for a growing number of observers may be interested in following in his father-in-law’s footsteps. A signal in this direction came from his visit to the areas affected by the violent earthquake of February 6 that between the south of the Anatolian peninsula and Syria caused more than 50 thousand deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. In a video posted on Twitter, Selçuk promised to edificate buildings in order to house people impacted by the disaster. The words of comfort and civil commitment pronounced by the lord of drones also nicknamed the Turkish Elon Musk make one think of the dress rehearsal of a dolphin in pectore and follow his presence in the delegation that last year accompanied President Erdogan to Ukraine.

In the past, the possibility had taken shape in the Sultan’s family circle that another son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, the husband of his eldest daughter Esra, could be indicated as his possible successor. Appointed finance minister, in 2018 Albayrak faced a devaluation of the Turkish lira against the dollar of more than 30% and a severe recession, a dual crisis in which he demonstrated his incapacity. The image of the then minister wiping sweat in the midst of the economic storm at a press conference marked the sunset of his star.

Unlike his disgraced brother-in-law, Selçuk seems to have a promising future ahead of him even if at least for the moment he dismisses as gossip the rumors of his interest in governing the country. Yet, if he wanted to, the chief technology officer could win over the electorate by focusing on the winning image of the innovator at the top of a company that has become a symbol of Turkey. In fact, Selçuk is the real creator of the unmanned aircraft that, well before Ukraine, have distinguished themselves in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, all areas in which Ankara’s interests have come into conflict – often prevailing – with those of Moscow. It is no coincidence that the Bayraktar brothers have publicly expressed anti-Russian positions.

Selçuk’s profile is that of an internationally successful businessman. 43 years old, looking like a movie star, a passion since childhood for technology and, in particular, for airplanes with studies in engineering in Pennsylvania and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Returning to Turkey in 2007, he helped develop the drone division at Baykar, the company founded in the eighties by his father Ozdemir. The turning point came a few years later when they won the contract for the supply to the Turkish army of unmanned aircraft that will be used in the anti-terrorist campaign against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). At the moment Selçuk looks with pride at the successes of the company – which has grown seven times since Erdogan’s arrival in power in 2003 – and says he is more interested in programming codes than politics, but since his entry into the Sultan’s family his public image has been marked by the publication of religious quotes on Instagram and Twitter and by support for educational initiatives.

Meanwhile, Baykar’s drones gained such recognition that in Kiev they dedicated songs to them and a lemur from the zoo of the Ukrainian capital was given the name of the Turkish company. The deadly unmanned aircraft have in fact given such a turning point in the initial phase of the war to upset Moscow’s plans to crush the enemy in a few days. Rich Outzen, a Turkey expert at the U.S. State Department, commented on the use of the Bayraktar TB2 stating that it “allowed an operational revolution in the way wars are fought”. The next challenge for Selçuk may be to transfer this revolution from technology to national politics. But this is a story that has yet to be written.