There is an annual Kodak-moment in Turkey’s festivities every National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, April 23, in which Turkish leaders pick out smart schoolchildren, bring them to the president’s and prime minister’s offices, invite them to sit in their seats with the president and prime minister there — and hope the children to make a few witty remarks in front of the cameras. The statesmen then give the children affectionate pats on the shoulder and smile at the cameras.
This year, Fatih Mintaş, a sixth-grade student, took President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s seat and had a chat with him. The president first reminded Fatih that he should be proud of his name (Fatih in Turkish means “conqueror”). Erdoğan then reminded Fatih that he, the president, has six grandchildren and wished that Fatih, too, would have plenty of grandchildren when he grows up.
This wish was not surprising coming from a politician who has repeatedly called on Turkish parents to have at least three children, and more if possible. In a speech in 2017, Erdoğan — reflecting his Islamist worldview that often comes with a seeming desire to Islamize Christian Europe — called on Turkish families living in Europe to have five children.
Another feature of Erdoğan’s “family engineering” has been his desire to increase enrollment at Turkey’s Islamic “Imam Hatip” religious schools, one of which formed the young Erdoğan. In an 2017 speech, Erdoğan thanked God that the number of students at these schools had risen sharply to 1.3 million from a mere 60,000 when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2002. Turkish taxpayers had to spend 45 million Turkish liras (approximately $11 million) to build just one new Imam Hatip school that bears Erdoğan’s name.