If Defeated, Will Erdogan Give Up His Palace Life?
A tale of Turkey's second president accepting defeat begs the question of whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan would accept election defeat on May 14, and return to life as a private citizen.
ISTANBUL — As we eagerly wonder what awaits us the evening of election day May 14, I want to take you on a trip back exactly 73 years ago. We’re going to May 14, 1950 in the Çankaya Mansion, the former presidential residence of Turkey in the capital of Ankara.
That evening, President İsmet İnönü, the successor to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had cast his vote alongside his wife Mevhibe at the Çankaya Elementary School early in that morning.
The Mansion’s room No: 18 has already started to liven up in the afternoon. This great room with a billiards table was used by the aides and took its name from the number of the interior phone line in it: 18. But it wasn't until the evening that reports on the election results started to come in. The President was the only calm person as his aides, ministers and the presidential staff were following the results with nervous excitement.
The early news was a surprise to all of those in the room. And over the next few hours, they'd watch the election being lost, as the heavyweights of the leading Republican People’s Party (CHP) would begin to worry about the situation in their own constituencies.
Parliamentary deputy Faik Ahmet Barutçu was one of those. He called his hometown of Trabzon and learned that the opposing Democrat Party (DP) was in the lead. He turned to the others in the room who were looking at him with curiosity. “The man is confused. He only knows about Trabzon. What if he would be here and knew what we know? He would definitely go insane” he said, bursting with laughter. The first lady, Mevhibe İnönü, was just entering the room as Barutçu’s laughter was echoing in the room.
She felt at ease as she heard the laughter, and began to laugh, too: The election results must be going well.
Yet at that moment, her eye caught her husband walking back and forth in the room — and Mrs İnönü knew his pacing meant something was wrong.
The Presidential Compound in Ankara, Turkey.
She walked towards her husband, and they sat down together on a couch. İnönü turned to his wife and asked: “How many days would it take to move out?”
Mevhibe İnönü put her hand on the hand of her husband. “Don’t worry, I’ll round things up quickly. We’ll be back at our own place in a day or two.” He put his hand on her shoulder and asked: “We won’t be owning a car. You can travel to the city by the bus and handle your affairs, right?”
The first lady thought about the war years with all kinds of shortages. She squeezed her hand on his shoulder affectionately as if saying “don’t worry” without speaking.
Actually, the subject had come up once before, following an election rally in Istanbul, and Mevhibe İnönü received a similar answer from her husband. The dinner table was covered with a green cloth after the meal that night. They started playing bezique as husband and wife.
The president stopped all of a sudden as he was dealing the cards, as if he just remembered something important: “My lady, we are ready, right?”
“For the results of the elections. We are ready; spiritually and physically. Whatever happens… right?”
Mrs. İnönü replied with a smile: “Of course. May God grant you life. All will be well.” They had a similar conversation with their daughter.
Former Turkish president Atatürk at the library of Çankaya Köşkü Presidential Residence on July 16, 1929.
Fleet of 100 cars
The DP won the elections, unseating the Turkish republic's founding party CHP from power. The İnönü Family moved to their own house in Ankara, known as the Pink Villa, after the elections. It would be the last time they ever moved.
Right after they settled, Mevhibe took action in the two matters that worried her husband the most. She took the bus to the city center, and did her shopping. The people of Ankara got used to seeing the former first lady at the bazaar, grocery store and riding public transportation after that day.
We are living in a different Turkey.
It has been 73 years since then and if the polls are not deceiving us, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family will soon need to move out of their so-called palace of “a thousand rooms.”
We are living in a very different Turkey compared to 73 years ago. Erdoğan and his family use more than 100 escorting vehicles when they go from one place to another. It’s a colossal fleet with special vehicles for the bodyguards, health personnel and the “yes-men;” transporting Erdoğan from here to there.
They have an office at the Vahdettin Pavilion in Istanbul and use the Huber Mansion whenever they are in Istanbul. They have jumbo jets for traveling abroad, flying palaces with bedrooms, offices and conference rooms.
Add the “summer palace” at the Okluk Bay in Gökova in western Turkey and the mansion in Ahlat in eastern Turkey to all these.
It looks like they will need an army to help them to pack up their stuff and move. What do you think? In how many days the Erdoğans can move to their former house in Kısıklı, Istanbul?
*** Note: the author sourced the book “Mevhibe – Çankaya’nın Hanımefendisi” (Mevhibe – The lady of Çankaya) by İsmet İnönü’s granddaughter Gülsün Bilgehan to write about the events of the İnönü Family moving out of the Çankaya Mansion.