Erdogan’s new $350 mln palace draws controversy

Al Arabiya News — Nov 1, 2014

Turkey's new presidential palace. Click to enlarge

Turkey’s new presidential palace. Click to enlarge

It is reportedly larger than the White House, the Kremlin and Buckingham Palace: Turkey’s new presidential palace spreads over some 50 acres of forest land, boasts 1,000 rooms, an underground tunnel system, state-of-the-art anti-espionage technology and a blend of modernist and medieval architecture.

The ornate palace reportedly cost more than $350 million, much to the dismay of both opposition figures and ecologists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled the lavish complex, commonly referred to as “Ak Saray” (white palace in Turkish) earlier this week to celebrate the 91st anniversary of Republic Day, which marks the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of modern Turkey.

Opposition groups boycotted the ceremony and slammed the palace as evidence of Erdogan’s “autocratic tendencies.”

“What could have been done with that money?” opposition figure Umut Oran said according to the Dogan news agency, claiming the presidency’s budget was three times that of the British royal family and could have been used to send “three satellites to Mars.”

“Even Queen Elizabeth II would look poor, considering the budget of the 12th president of Turkey,” Oran said according to Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, according to Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, adding that U.S. President Barack Obama governs his country from the 214-year-old White House.

Oran further said: “Compared with the 12th president’s complex, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s Kremlin Palace is like an outhouse … He would most probably be looking down upon Monsieur [French President François] Hollande.”

Environmentalists have also protested against the construction of the gigantic complex, which started in 2011, as it is built in an area that was supposed to be protected forested lands, according to the Washington Post.

Erdogan’s move to the new palace, which is located on the outskirts of the Turkish capital Ankara, serves as a symbolic breakaway with Cankaya presidential palace in downtown Ankara, which housed all 12 Turkish presidents since the days of the republic’s founder Mustapha Kemal Ataturk.

The land itself was a farm that belonged to Ataturk, which he later donated to the state.

And Erdogan is well aware of this historic break.

Turkey is no longer the old Turkey. The New Turkey needs to manifest itself in certain ways,” U.S.-based current affairs site al-Monitor reported him saying in September.

“We need to convey the message that Ankara is a Seljuk capital. We paid great attention to that. We paid attention to Ottoman themes in the interior, also adding elements reflecting the modern world. We had it constructed as a smart building. … [Such are] the requirements of being a great state,” Erdogan said.

The Seljuk dynasty is a medieval Sunni Muslim tribe that established an empire that stretched from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. The president reportedly ignored a number of court orders to stop the construction of the new presidential palace and went ahead with his challenging plan.

“Let them demolish it if they have enough power for this. They ordered a stay of execution but they will not be able to stop it. I will open it and I will sit in it,” Today’s Zaman reported Erdogan saying to reporters March this year.

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