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Turkey elections: Kilicdaroglu takes aim at Bayraktar TB2 maker

Presidential hopeful believes the Turkish drone industry should be largely controlled by the state, which hasn't gone down well with Baykar
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks to a crowd (Reuters/file photo)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks to a crowd (Reuters/file photo)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul, Turkey

The Turkish opposition's presidential candidate has angered the company behind Turkey's famed Bayraktar TB2 armed drones, by saying the country’s burgeoning defence industry must be largely controlled by the state and the private sector shouldn’t be permitted to produce weapons alone. 

Kemal Kilicdaroglu said defence industry privatisation was "a great risk" at an election campaign event on Sunday where he took questions from students.

“If you only give it to the private sector, let's say 'our friend is building an unmanned aircraft'. If you only give it to the private sector, this is a big risk for Turkey,” he said.

“Why? They might sell it to the Americans tomorrow. Or give it to the Qataris as we have given the tank-pallet factory to the Qataris. Impossible. In all democracies and authoritarian regimes of the world, the defence industry must walk together with the state.” 

Kilicdaroglu acknowledged that the local defence industry has made significant progress and said he would continue to support investment in the sector. 

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“The geography where Turkey is located is in a very critical geopolitical place. Right next to us is the Middle East. The Middle East is a bloodbath,” he said.

“Turkey needs to be strong in the region. Strength also depends on the strength of your defence industry.” 

'In all democracies and authoritarian regimes of the world, the defence industry must walk together with the state'

-  Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Turkey heads to the polls in presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is partly running an election campaign based on defence industry products such as the TCG Anadolu light aircraft carrier (nicknamed the world first's drone carrier) and locally designed aircraft.

Kilicdaroglu’s statements didn’t go down well with the private Turkish drone magnate Baykar, whose chairman of the board is Selcuk Bayraktar, Erdogan’s son-in-law. 

Baykar has made a name for itself worldwide in recent years through its battle-proven armed drones, including the Bayraktar TB2.

It has made $1.2bn worth of exports, including to Nato countries. The company is now currently developing an unmanned fighter jet called Kizilelma. 

Haluk Bayraktar, the general manager of Baykar, reacted negatively to the suggestion that they may sell up and leave Turkey, insisting that would never happen.

“It is very unfortunate to accuse the company of such a thing when it is not in question,” he said in an interview on CNNTurk on Monday.

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“No company in the defence industry in Turkey was on its own. You cannot produce without declaring it to the state. We export to 29 different countries by obtaining permission from the state authorities.

"Shall we leave this country? We do not sell our company to anyone.” 

This isn’t the first time Baykar found itself in a dispute with Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

Selcuk Bayraktar last year said that a change in government could block ongoing Baykar projects. 

"There is a serious risk of failure if the current political power related to these projects is loosened,” he said. “A slightest change or action taken with different motivations are enough to destroy these projects."

In response, Kilicdaroglu made a gesture by visiting a Baykar-hosted Teknofest event, where Ankara’s defence industry achievements were showcased. 

Bayraktar welcomed the visit and said it made the firm happier, though he said that other CHP officials continue to target the company.

After his Teknofest appearance, Kilicdaroglu said Turkey had been making good tech investments, especially in the defence industry.

“We all need to support these investments, it is that simple,” he said.

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