The first pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s luxurious new summer residence on the Aegean coast have sparked outrage at a time when ordinary Turks are struggling to feed their families.
The architect this week released details of the sprawling complex north of Marmaris, which is valued at $74 million. The images show the airy, high-ceilinged interiors of the buildings as well as a swimming pool and private beach.
Although the lavish complex was completed two years ago, it is the first time the public has seen images of it. They were released as the Covid-19 pandemic compounded long-standing economic problems, leading to heightened poverty.
Inflation hit a two-year high of 17.5 per cent last month.
Food inflation rose by a fifth compared with last year – one of the biggest issues facing households. Electricity prices recently increased by 15 per cent and natural gas by 12 per cent.
Perhaps more embarrassing for Mr Erdogan, the images of his summer retreat were released shortly after his wife, Emine Erdogan, advised people to cut their meal portions to stop waste.
Her comments led to rebukes, with many highlighting Mrs Erdogan's taste for luxury brands.
“They tell us to cut down on our food but they have money to spend on handbags and to build luxury palaces in Marmaris,” said Hasan Ozbilek, 71, a pensioner who sells tissues on the streets of Istanbul.
“The president has always said he represents ordinary people, and he came from humble roots himself, but now we see that he lives like a sultan while everyone else struggles.”
Mr Erdogan’s core base is Turkey’s conservative poor and in the early days of his 18-year rule he built support by providing them with services and jobs. But recent polls show this vital support ebbing as pandemic restrictions affect the economy.
A survey by respected polling company MetroPOLL last month showed 69 per cent of respondents thought the government’s Covid-19 relief was insufficient. Among voters for Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), 45 per cent said it was not enough.
“People are sick and tired of this,” said Burak Erbay, an opposition MP for Mugla, the province where the new presidential palace is located.
“It’s not only about the [palace] here, there’s the one in Ankara, the one in Van. It’s about all these private aeroplanes, jets. While people are struggling to put bread on the table, they see all this luxury and extravagance and of course, they get angry.”
Mr Erdogan’s residences have been dogged by controversy in recent years, particularly the 1,000-room complex constructed on the Ataturk Forest Farm, an area in Ankara bequeathed to the state by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
As it is one of the most protected parcels of land in Turkey, no buildings should have been erected on the site. But the complex was completed in 2014 despite legal orders for the work to be halted.
In typically blunt style, Mr Erdogan responded with a challenge: “Let them tear it down if they can. They ordered suspension yet they can’t stop this building.”
Such is his association with projects like these that “The Palace” has become a phrase synonymous with Mr Erdogan’s presidency.
Orhan Sarialtun led the urban planning division of the national union of engineers and architects when the summer palace was under construction.
“Our organisation has always opposed these grand projects, which we see harm the country economically and environmentally,” he said. “In every case, we went to court but unfortunately the rule of law in Turkey, or rather lack of it, means we were always unsuccessful.”
Mr Sarialtun described methods whereby environmental protections for a proposed site are downgraded, building work is begun ahead of legal permission being granted and legal objections are stonewalled.
If a court eventually rules against the construction, the project is already completed, leaving opponents with a fait accompli.
“In cases where the decision has gone our way, no construction was ever put on hold or any building ever demolished,” he said.
A house on the Marmaris site was originally developed by Turgut Ozal, a former prime minister and president in the 1980s and early 1990s.
One local businessman, who asked not to be identified, remembered Mr Ozal strolling to a nearby restaurant in his beach shorts accompanied by a lone bodyguard.
Now, the area is heavily guarded and has been enlarged. Locals say they were forced to sell their property to make room for the sprawling luxury property at below market value.
“They gave us a few pennies, much lower than its real value,” the businessman said. “All the property and the buildings on it were all counted as farmland and we were paid according to that.
“The area around the palace was cleared and everything and everyone was wiped out.”
A senior official at Mugla Metropolitan Municipality, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: “The coast and forest have been redesigned against local characteristics and rules. A special regulation was put in place to allow this.
“In order to achieve all this, they didn’t obey the law, they used every loophole and even created new loopholes to go ahead with the project, including lowering the legal protection level of the area.”