The Ak Saray

The case can be made that a new palace with 1,000 rooms gives reason for concern. Why so much space?

The Ak Saray

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be the first of many future world leaders to live within the gates of the Ak Saray. Also known as the White Palace, the vast complex will provide both residential suites and a workplace environment for generations of Turkish leadership to come. However, the steep price tag has opened the door for controversy. The palace has a price tag of $ 700 million, give or take a few million. The building boasts marble floors. No big deal. I was at Home Depot yesterday looking at marble tiles too. Such things are normative architectural considerations for homes in Dallas. Silk wallpaper? Ho hum. US homes with wallpaper are considered to have a dated look. Like, errr, the 1980s. Real estate agents cringe when imagining the product.

Why this latest squall? The president of Turkey is a career politician. Being engulfed in controversy is the exacting punishment that befalls all leadership. But this latest, highly covered event appears to be overshadowing what should be presented in celebratory manner. The Republic of Turkey has a new seat of power. The physical architecture is merely a mirror of the political architecture of the stewardship that the current administration holds within its hands. Like him or hate him, Erdogan is good for Turkey.

Under the leadership of Erdogan, Turkey’s economy has tripled since 2003. And Turkey has maintained its position as a successful parliamentary republic. All this whilst weathering the tumultuous months of the Arab Spring that gobbled up more than a few political party machines. The nation is an island of goodwill in an archipelago of continuing political chaos.

As a journalist, my question is bifurcated when examining this latest dust-up. Is the building a statement about President Erdogan and his aspirations? Or is the building infused with symbolism for opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)? Is this controversy warranted? Or should the matter be laid to rest? My hand reached across the world to seek the perspective of an individual who lives in Istanbul, a man who knows the president on a first name basis. When posing a question regarding the expense incurred for the Ak Saray, he had this to say: ‘His new palace, to me, was mandatory, technically needed for state organisational needs, militarily, bureaucratically and intelligence use too.’

The case can be made that a new palace with 1,000 rooms gives reason for concern. Why so much space? Conspiracy theorists dart about with their swallow-like behaviour. The insectivorous press corps takes flight from day to day. So flights of fancy have abounded in recent days. Will the White Palace be used for the further consolidation of power of the AKP? It seems a moot point. In a day of teleconferencing, digital communications, signals intelligence and the like, it is not physical space alone that denotes consolidation of power. The levers of power are now globally manipulated by all interested parties. What began as Moore’s Law has led us to the power that resides in the cloud, the dark net and things most of us do not even think about. Again, power is no longer just about physical space nor physical proximity of the state to the citizen. Things are quite a bit more complicated.

While others gasp for air imagining a 1,000 room presidential manse, I am drawn to a simpler domestic model to keep the numerical allocation in proper perspective. When buying clothing I consider cost per wear. It is a better choice to purchase clothing that is tailored properly and not churned out by a Bangladesh garment factory. If provided with gentle care, the cost per wear warrants the expense. A cheap T-shirt will last the summer. However, the expensive dress bought nine years ago for a dinner event is coming out of the closet again.

The same model can be applied to the space configuration for the Ak Saray. If the palace effectively allocates 100 percent of the space for daily use, the citizens of Turkey receive a good return on the investment. But if we learn that President Erdogan is living alone with three cats and a gypsy caravan in the garden, it becomes a problem. My guess is that each room has a function. Every function is under the auspices of administrative staff.

When looking at cost, it can seem like an enormous sum for those of us who are not polymath geniuses. But when doing a quick comparative analysis, the first thing that came to my mind was the cost of the US Embassy in Baghdad. That behemoth cost the taxpayers $ 750 million. When I mentioned this small fact to another journalist, he sniped, ‘Well, that is because of all of the security features.’ Understood. It is possible the White Palace has a few such necessary features of its own.

Moving across the pond to take a glance at our British cousins is an eye-opener. Queen Elizabeth II maintains her primary residence at Buckingham Palace, worth a cool five billion dollars. Her domain as the reigning monarch includes the swans on stretches of the Thames River. The Crown has claimed the ownership of the birds since the 12th century. Throw in her annual government stipend of $ 12.9 million, and there is plenty of money to go around for those fancy little hats! The net worth of Queen Elizabeth II is set at $ 550 million.

Perhaps what this is really about involves the steady political ascendancy of a man who emerged from the shadows to become the prime minister and, now, the president of a modern Turkish state. Like it or not, the fortunes of the state are closely tied to the success of Mr Erdogan’s administrative management. Being universally well liked by the citizenry is a fluffy thought. Retaining the respect of the global community is solid ground. This solid ground provides the venue for beneficial treaties, vibrant lanes of commerce and transnational investment in the nation. Congratulations, President Erdogan!


The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at