Many a close shave: Istanbul barber recalls decades of serving Turkey's President Erdogan

Yasar Ayhan comes from the same neighbourhood as Turkey's leader and has given him haircuts and shaves since 1988

Yasar Ayhan has been the president's barber since 1988. Jamie Prentis / The National
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Turkey's long-time ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan prefers coffee to tea, does not really like bread and sometimes shaves twice a day. Well, that is according to his Istanbul barber Yasar Ayhan, who has known the president for decades.

"He's a humble man, acting as a normal person," Mr Ayhan said from his barbershop in Istanbul's Kasimpasa neighbourhood, where both men grew up.

"He doesn't like tea, he mostly likes coffee. He doesn't really like bread either," he said.

He recalled how, at a meal of fish and bread that he had with Mr Erdogan when he was running for Prime Minister, "he only ate the fish, while we had an entire bread".

Mr Ayhan, 57, has been the president's barber since 1988, when Mr Erdogan was the Istanbul chairman of the defunct Welfare Party and long before he became Istanbul's mayor, then Prime Minister, and eventually President.

There may be a 12-year age gap between the two men, but Mr Ayhan remembers Mr Erdogan from when he was young.

Inside the barber shop is a picture of Mr Ayhan and Mr Erdogan from 2012, when the latter was Prime Minister. Jamie Prentis / The National

"When he lived in Kasimpasa, we knew he would be something. But we didn't imagine that he would become a world leader, ruling the country for 20 years," he said.

"He always dressed very well. He was charismatic. Even at that time, the clothes he was wearing — even the Prime Minister then didn't have it.

"He was very careful with shaving. He shaved every day, but I know sometimes he did it twice — I did it personally."

Long gone are the days when Mr Erdogan used to visit Mr Ayhan's barbershop twice a week. After he became Prime Minister in 2003, traffic would come to a standstill in the busy neighbourhood, although Mr Erdogan still visits Kasimpasa.

Now when Mr Erdogan is in Istanbul — the presidential residence is in the capital Ankara — and he needs a trim, a car normally comes to collect Mr Ayhan.

At least publicly, in Kasimpasa support remains high for Mr Erdogan. Jamie Prentis / The National

"Of course it's an amazing feeling, to see and touch and shave the man you see on the television 24 hours a day. But after a while I got used to it. He's a sympathetic, calm, modest guy. He acts like we act. There's no tension, we joke sometimes."

Kasımpasa, a working-class area on the European side of Turkey's largest city, is clearly Mr Erdogan's neighbourhood.

Inside the barbershop is a picture of Mr Ayhan and Mr Erdogan from 2012, when the latter was Prime Minister. Outside on the bustling street, posters of Mr Erdogan and Turkish flags line the roads.

Mr Erdogan is facing the biggest challenge to his long-time rule from Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has put on the most successful opposition campaign yet. However, even amid an economic crisis and alleged increased repression by the state, Mr Kilicdaroglu lagged around 5 per cent behind Mr Erdogan in the first round of voting two weeks ago.

Asked how Mr Erdogan had managed to stay on top for so long, Mr Ayhan said: "I think lots of people are praying for him. The second reason is the work he has done: people are directly benefiting from it. Hospital medicines, mosques, the roads. People see this service and continue to support him.

"On Sunday, I am praying for him to be re-elected and I am sure he will win again."

Turkish elections
Updated: May 28, 2023, 12:05 PM