Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week unveiled his new palace in the outskirts of the country’s capital, Ankara. The gaudy residence boasts 1,000 rooms and apparently cost some $350 million to construct. Its total area, according to the AFP, encompasses some 2,150,000 square feet. Unsurprisingly, such largesse has led to criticism.
Ahead of the complex’s official unveiling, which took place on Turkey’s Republic Day on Oct. 29, opposition politicians declared that they would boycott the event — one deputy said it made Moscow’s Kremlin compound look “like an outhouse.” It has almost 50 times the floor space of the White House.
Activists are also furious that the gigantic complex has been erected in an area that was supposed to be protected forested lands and led to a significant mowing down of trees. Mass protests last year against Erdogan’s government were initially inspired by state plans to build a commercial development in a small park in Istanbul.
Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (known by the acronym AKP) withstood a string of corruption scandals and triumphed in elections this year, which led to the then-Turkish prime minister taking up the role of the country’s President. The opening of the new palace — dubbed the Ak Saray, or “white palace,” but also a play on the ruling party’s name — is rich with symbolism.
The new structure marks a shift from the Canakya palace in downtown Ankara, which has been the residence of the Turkish president dating back to the republic’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Arguably, no Turkish leader since Ataturk has dominated the country’s politics as much as Erdogan, who sees the new palace as an echo of the new Turkey emerging under his watch.
“The new Turkey should assert itself with something new,” he recently told reporters. “The presidential office has been arranged in a very special way, we have paid particular attention to this.”
Until now, the post of the president has been a largely ceremonial role, but under Erdogan it will clearly not be.
The architecture of the palace is supposed to be a blend of modernism with gestures to Turkey’s Ottoman heritage. Here’s Erdogan himself on the structure’s design:
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.
The Seljuks were a Turkic tribe turned political dynasty that entered Anatolia beginning in the 11th century AD. They’re considered the progenitors of the Ottomans, who would go on to build one of the most powerful empires in Europe and the Middle East that lasted until its collapse at the end of World War I.
Turkey emerged out of the ashes of that empire and, under Ataturk’s stewardship, went down a very different path: a secular nationalist state that looked to the West and rejected elements of the country’s Muslim, Ottoman heritage.
Erdogan, who critics accuse of inspiring a creeping Islamization in the country, has taken pains to reclaim that legacy. In an interview in 2011, he told me that it would be “self-denial” for Turkey not to embrace its Ottoman past. He went on:
We were born and raised on the land that is the legacy of the Ottoman empire. They are our ancestors. It is out of the question that we might deny that presence. Of course, the empire had some beautiful parts and some not so beautiful parts. It’s a very natural right for us to use what was beautiful about the Ottoman Empire today.
His new home does little to dispel the impression that he sees himself asTurkey’s new Sultan.