SEATTLE, Wash. — Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş streamed an hour-long conversation on Twitch on March 18. Her feed promoted a new fundraising program. The conversation is now the most-watched Twitch stream in Turkey, with Gen Z making up the stream’s primary audience. Ankara mayor’s social work on Twitch marks peak of youth involvement in politics. Moreover, it shows growing support for the mayor’s programs against poverty and food shortage in Ankara.
Turkish politics in modern times
In recent years, the Turkish political scene has been turbulent. There is growing metropolitan resistance to the country’s powerful Islamist-based Justice and Development Party. The Justice and Development Party (abbreviated AKP in Turkish) initially gained popularity around 2002. Current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the figurehead of the party and its conservative values.
However, a recent poll in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, revealed that many now believe that Erdoğan and the AKP no longer have the interests of the people at heart. With the addition of numerous allegations of corruption within the AKP, citizens in some of Turkey’s biggest cities are hoping for new leadership.
Leadership revitalized in Ankara
In Ankara, that hope took the form of Mansur Yavaş. Yavaş is currently mayor of Ankara and represents the secular and centrist Republican People’s Party. He succeeded the previous AKP mayor, Melih Gokcek, in 2019. Since then, he has made poverty and food shortage one of the central themes of his campaign.
Yavaş also won the respect of conservative Turkish voters by promising a clean slate for Ankara’s leadership. On his first day in office in 2019, Yavaş ordered the cleaning of a statue of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This turned out to be a stark contrast to the tone of previous AKP leaders in Ankara. The move was applauded by officials from the İYİ Party, a conservative secular party at odds with the ongoing corruption in Ankara. The act drew national attention and created an increased sense of solidarity among Turks of all backgrounds.
Social work under Mayor Yavaş
The mayor also delivered on his campaign promise to provide much-needed aid to Ankara residents in need. In May last year, Yavaş raised hundreds of millions of Turkish liras through grassroots efforts. He then distributed the pound to the poor in Ankara through “non-partisan programs and organizations”. The project started thanks to the social work of the Mayor of Ankara on Twitch and other social media platforms.
During the same period, Yavaş quickly set up online mechanisms for people suffering from food shortage. During Ramadan last year, Yavaş and his political team created a website where citizens could quickly and efficiently donate hot meals to those in need. The project generated 500,000 iftar meals for the hungry in Ankara. Once again, the food delivery project kicked off thanks to the social work of the Mayor of Ankara on Twitch and Twitter.
The role of Twitch and social media
In addition to its rapid and effective response to the novel coronavirus, Yavaş has also gained popularity among Turkish youth through its many metropolitan programs and awareness channels. The Mayor of Ankara’s social work on Twitch and other social media has resulted in an engaged and invested youth population. This is something of a rarity in Turkish politics. Yavaş created his official Twitch account on March 14, opening a brand new channel for civic engagement.
Subsequently, Mayor Yavaş took first place in a popularity poll conducted last year in major cities in Turkey. It continues to gain traction with Turks from all walks of life. Moreover, this year’s pollsters indicate that the AK party is unlikely to win back voters due to the state of Turkey’s economy during the party’s leadership.
A political scientist, Berk Esen from Bilkent University in Ankara, highlighted Yavaş’ public relations successes during the COVID-19 pandemic. He particularly highlighted successes for the city’s hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken residents. In the same statement, Esen also said that much of Ankara’s success stems from the Ankara Mayor’s innovative social work on Twitch and other social media platforms, both to raise awareness in different political circles and to collect donations for those in need.
The mayor’s optimistic future
As citizens and young Turks seek new political representation, figures like Mayor Yavaş appear to be filling the leadership role with the express purpose of making poverty and food scarcity a priority. By balancing the needs of different communities and promoting solidarity among Turks of all backgrounds, Yavaş garnered significant support both inside and outside Ankara. Many believe that with additional community support, Yavaş has the potential to represent the start of a new revolution in the way social and community work is done in Turkey.
– Madeleine Youngblood