President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the presidential staff guided journalists around the Beştepe Presidential Complex, or presidential palace, that was inaugurated last year in a special tour on Tuesday in the capital city of Ankara. Erdoğan scolded critics over the extravagant appearance of the site and repeated his earlier remarks that it was not his personal complex but rather a place that represents the Republic of Turkey.
The sprawling complex, which replaced the relatively smaller Çankaya, was opened in October 2014, on the Republic Day, and since then, has been the target of a defamation campaign with reports of golden toilet seats in its restrooms and massive tables worth tens of thousands of Turkish liras, which turned out to be false.
Journalists have already toured the administrative buildings of the complex in an earlier tour and on Tuesday Erdoğan personally guided them in a visit to the main building where his office is located. After asking them if they liked the complex –with journalists expressing their admiration - Erdoğan answered a reporter's question whether it was a bit late to organize the tour, months after the opening of the complex. Erdoğan pointed to the smearing campaign and said, "The timing has been appropriate as we have seen everything that anybody would say about (the complex) and appropriate on how we would approach this matter."
On a question about tours of the complex for the public, Erdoğan said the compound is already open to the public and his staff was occasionally guiding the visitors through the complex. The president also announced that Turkey's biggest opera hall will be built on the complex, with a capacity of 2,300 people.
Turkish media had already reported that the presidency would offer free tours of the compound built on 300,000 square meters. Visitors were required to apply beforehand for the visit to prevent overcrowding. Last month, the presidential website had introduced a virtual tour of several sections of the palace, including dining and conference halls, allowing visitors to explore the palace through panoramic photos.
The palace, which opened in October, was criticized by the opposition for its cost and size. The presidency dismissed the criticism, stating that the palace was not built exclusively for President Erdoğan and was planned as a long-standing structure that will accommodate the needs of the Presidency. Erdoğan himself said the palace was built for the nation. "This is an artifact that Turkey will hand down to future generations," Erdoğan has said before.
Nevertheless, this did not deter the ongoing criticism. The Ankara branch of the Chamber of Architects is the harshest, yet, apparently the most clueless critic of the palace. The chamber occasionally releases statements on the apparent astronomical expenses of the palace, based on the assumption of the president's critics, rather than any concrete evidence. The chamber claimed that the cost of the enormous round table where the president hosted an iftar dinner was TL 240,000 ($90,600). The president's office denied the claim and announced the table simply cost TL 4,600 and the cutlery seen on it in photos was not gold-plated as it was claimed. Erdoğan himself denounced the claim as "slander." Then, the Presidency released a time-lapse video showing the preparation of the dinner table and it was revealed that the large round table was actually composed of almost a dozen tables joined together to accommodate the president and its guests.
In May, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) had claimed the toilet seats in the Presidential Palace were covered with gold, sparking a war of words with the president. Erdoğan denied the claim and had invited Kılıçdaroğlu to the compound to inspect the toilets for himself. Kılıçdaroğlu later retracted his remarks and turned down the invitation.
The president was apparently tired of criticism regarding the complex and told journalists during the tour that prolonging the debate was not appropriate in his opinion. Answering questions on a legal battle launched by the critics of the complex on the grounds that it was built in an area under preservation, Erdoğan said the highest legal authority in the country already issued a ruling that approved the construction. He said the palace was not illegally built "unlike the building of the Chamber of Architects," referring to an Istanbul building owned by the chamber that was found to be illegally expanded. Erdoğan said the presidential complex was "a place representing the country" and it was "wrong to spread provocative reports and disseminate disinformation about it."
On a personal note, Erdoğan said his most favorite place in the enormous compound was the library next to his office. The president led throngs of journalists to the elegantly furnished library amid a scent of incense engulfing the rooms. "This is where I find peace," Erdoğan said.
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