Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s influential leader

From selling simit and playing football in the streets of Istanbul to becoming president. A timeline of Erdogan’s extraordinary journey.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Turkish citizens voted to revise their constitution on April 16. The result is seen as an endorsement of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Updated Apr 20, 2017

In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known as bizden biri or “one of us.” He first became politically active during his university studies in the 1970s and has continued to rise through the ranks to ultimately to become Turkey’s leader.

Turkish citizens voted for 18 constitutional reforms on Sunday, one that includes moving from a parliamentary to a presidential system. 

The outcome of the referendum was close, with 51.4 percent voting in favour of the changes, which his supporters believe endorses Erdogan’s leadership.

Here is a look at Erdogan’s journey from Istanbul’s working class Kasimpasa district on the city’s European side to the presidential complex in Ankara. 


Born on February 26, 1954  to Ahmet and Tenzile Erdogan. Ahmet was in the coast guard and the family lived in Istanbul’s Kasimpasa neighbourhood.


Graduated from Kasımpasa Piyale Primary School.


Started a career as a semi-professional football player at the local Kasimpasa club. He said that his love for football taught him the importance of teamwork and character. His father apparently refused to allow him to make a transfer to Fenerbahce, one of Turkey’s biggest teams. It was during his stint as a soccer player that he became interested in politics.

Erdogan is passionate about football and is often seen kicking the ball in friendly games.


Graduated from Istanbul Imam Hatip School, a religious vocational high school. Later received a diploma from Eyüp High School for additional courses.

1975 to 1981

Played football for the Istanbul Electric Tram and Tunnels (IETT) sports club.

Erdogan (sitting row, third from left) played for the Istanbul Electric Tram and Tunnels sports club for seven years.


Active member of  National Turkish Student’s Association, a nationalist and youth organisation. He then joined the National Salvation Party, the Milli Selamet Partisi (MSP), and became the head of the party’s Beyoglu youth branch. In the same year he became head of the party’s Istanbul youth branch. He held both positions at the MSP until the September 1980 coup, when political parties were banned.


Married Emine Gulbaran. They have four children, two sons, Necmettin Bilal and Ahmet Burak, and two daughters, Esra and Sümeyye.

The president and his wife Emine at Buckingham Palace for a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.


Graduated with a diploma from the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Marmara University. 


Elected Beyoglu district head of the Refah Partisi, the Welfare Party, founded by the then-prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan in 1980.


Elected Refah Partisi's provincial head as well as a member of the party's central executive board. 


Elected mayor of Istanbul on March 27, 1994. During his tenure, he introduced various reforms aimed at improving the quality of life.

Turkey's former prime minister and leader of the Refah Partisi, Necmettin Erbakan, greets his supporters with Erdogan who was then the mayor of Istanbul, during the party's provincial congress in Istanbul on Sunday, December 21, 1997.


Arrested in December for reciting a poem. He served four months of a 10-month sentence.


Founded the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) on  August 14, 2001, with his friend and former president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul. The central conservative party focused on political, social and economic reforms. 

2002 to 2003

Elected prime minister after the AK Party swept the polls and won a majority of the parliamentary seats. He held the position for 11 years until 2014. Under his leadership, Turkey started talks with the European Union to join the bloc. 

Erdogan addressing the assembly at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2004.


Elected the 12th president of Turkey in the first-ever direct elections for head of state, held in August 2014, garnering more than 51 percent of the vote.


Survived attempted coup on July 15, by a military faction that left 249 people dead and more than two thousand injured. Speaking to CNN Turk, Erdogan addressed the nation, urging citizens to take to the streets and stand up against the coup plotters.

Tens of thousands poured onto the streets of Istanbul to fend off the attempted coup on July 15, 2016.

April 2017

Erdogan wins support for 18 proposed constitutional amendments after a referendum.

A supporter in Ankara holds a scarf with Erdogan's motto, "One nation, one flag, one land, one state." 

TRTWorld and agencies