A Turkish opposition lawmaker, Hasan Bitmez, died this week just two days after suffering a fatal heart attack while delivering an impassioned speech in parliament criticizing the ruling party’s ongoing economic ties with Israel amid the conflict in Gaza.
The 54-year-old Bitmez, a member of the small Islamist Felicity Party, had slammed the government for allowing ships to continue trading with Israel even as it strongly condemned Israel’s military strikes in Gaza. “You have the blood of Palestinians on your hands, you are collaborators. You contribute to every bomb Israel drops on Gaza,” Bitmez declared in his final address to lawmakers during a budget debate.
Moments after concluding his speech and placing a banner on the podium labeling Israel a “murderer” and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “collaborators”, video footage shows Bitmez suddenly collapsing backward onto the floor as fellow MPs rushed over to assist him.
Medical officials later determined Bitmez had suffered a massive heart attack brought on by blocked arteries. Despite CPR being administered in parliament within 20 minutes and being urgently transferred to a hospital, Bitmez could not be revived.
Who Was Opposition Lawmaker Hasan Bitmez?
A member of the small conservative Saadet Party and an elected member of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, Hasan Bitmez had previously worked for Islamic non-governmental organizations and graduated from the prestigious Al Azhar University in Cairo.
Married with one child, Bitmez’s background was rooted in Islamic scholarship and political activism. As head of the Centre for Islamic Union Research, he joined other Saadet Party candidates in aligning with the main secular opposition party this year to challenge Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
While not directly criticizing Erdogan, Bitmez directed his condemnation towards the ruling AKP for failing to match its harsh rhetoric against Israel’s actions in Gaza with meaningful economic sanctions or penalties. It was this perceived policy hypocrisy that appeared to trigger Bitmez’s defiant last speech.
Opposition Outrage Over Lawmaker’s Sudden Death
The shocking spectacle of the 54-year old Bitmez having a fatal heart attack immediately after criticizing the government has sparked outrage amongst Turkish opposition groups.
Key critics have highlighted that Bitmez’s incendiary speech aimed at the ruling party appeared to directly trigger his collapse. “Stress-related heart attacks are extremely rare at his age without an underlying condition, so the images of him dying right after an impassioned speech blaming the government for complicity in Israeli bombings seems anything but a coincidence,” explained cardiac surgeon Dr. Ozlem Sahin of Ankara Medical Center.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu also issued a statement placing blame on the stress from Bitmez feeling forced to call out the government’s policy contradictions regarding Israel. “His tragic death underscores the high personal cost Turkish dissenters face under 20 years of oppressive AKP rule,” said Kilicdaroglu.
The strong reactions even prompted President Erdogan to firmly deny any government responsibility for Bitmez’s untimely demise, stating “we firmly reject efforts to politicize this death for partisan aims.”
Yet medical experts maintain that severe psychological stress can undoubtedly trigger fatal heart problems in those prone to underlying issues. As Dr. Sahin noted, “Yelling angrily to denounce government policies likely sent his blood pressure skyrocketing which ruptured existing arterial plaques.”
Broader Questions Over Turkey-Israel Ties
Beyond the tragedy of his sudden passing, Bitmez’s scathing critique of Turkey’s continued trade with Israel has also sparked broader debates over where Ankara actually stands on Palestinian rights.
Despite often issuing harsh condemnations of Israeli military operations and civilian deaths in Gaza, Turkey remains one of Israel’s largest trading partners. As Bitmez highlighted in his final speech, Turkish exports to Israel reached $6 billion last year.
Yet President Erdogan has termed Israel a “terror state” carrying out a “bloody massacre” in Gaza. This seeming gap between economic policy versus political rhetoric is what opposition figures claim needs re-examining in wake of Bitmez’s death.
As trade economist Selim Tunali explained, “Turkey’s vitriolic verbal attacks on Israeli actions simply don’t align with growing business ties. Such conflicting signals regarding sanctions have also weakened Ankara’s role as a potential peace broker.”
Of course, fully downgrading commercial ties carries risks also. But Bitmez and fellow opposition leaders believe Turkish authorities need to reconsider whether the current approach actually helps or hinders the Palestinian cause. Or whether rhetorical denunciations alone simply allow both sides to talk tough for domestic audiences without enacting meaningful change.
It is this delicate balancing act that Hasan Bitmez gave his life to passionately call attention to in the moments before his shocking death. And as mourners across Turkey honor Bitmez’s sacrifice, his final heartfelt speech may lead more people to ponder if existing policy towards Israel requires fundamental rethinking.