In the final stages of Türkiye’s presidential elections, the sultan was often seen taking out his wallet on the streets and handing lira bills to passers-by. On the one hand, he wanted to show his generous side to potential voters, but also to make it clear that despite the country’s economic misery – significantly involved through his financial policy – he is one of the people, helps where he can, is part of them.
Erdogan’s wife often stood next to him, talked to passers-by and showed understanding for the impoverishment of the people. Even if she didn’t distribute money herself – it wouldn’t be fitting for a Muslim woman in public next to her husband – she has other means of diverting attention from the catastrophic policies of the AKP government with trust in God and “closeness to the people”. Considering that Emine Erdogan is very careful about her image as a benefactor, she not only lives luxuriously, but is also remarkably conservative when it comes to gender relations. In March, she made headlines with her consistently positive statements about being in a harem.
The Turkish First Lady’s many extravagant purchases have met with criticism. The difference between her standard of living and that of the average Turkish citizen is striking. She gives tips, especially for housewives. You can still make vinegar from apple skins, and dried mangoes also taste very good, she recently revealed to a newspaper close to the government. Mangoes in Türkiye? The ridicule on social networks was great. “People queue for cheap potatoes and onions and you tell them how to dry mangoes,” wrote one user.
The article mentioned was headlined “The Humble Life in the Palace Kitchen”. In fact, very few Turks would want to associate their First Lady with modesty. The 68-year-old employs her own fashion designer for her modest fashion style, which always consists of a tightly tied headscarf, wide dresses made of exquisite yarn, pumps and strong make-up. In 2015, a section of Brussels’ Avenue Louise was even closed to the “shopping-addicted” first lady, as she was called by the British newspaper “Daily Mail”, so that she could shop undisturbed. At the end of March this year, less than six weeks after the devastating earthquake in southeastern Türkiye, she and her entourage were dropped off in front of the Dior store on 5th Avenue in New York.
Like her husband, Emine Erdogan comes from a modest background. She was born in Istanbul as one of five children of devout East Anatolian parents. From the age of 15 she had to wear a headscarf. Her brother reported in 2010 to the Turkish newspaper Milliyet that she cried in her room for days and even thought of suicide. After all, the headscarf meant that she wasn’t allowed to study. Today her daughters Esra and Sümeyye also wear the Islamic headscarf. Both studied in the US, but now they mainly devote themselves to family and household chores. For Emine Erdogan, being a mother is one of the primary roles of women in Islam: “The prerequisite for all the rights, freedoms and achievements that are promised to women is that they give up their own identity,” she lectured last November. As a woman, she has a completely different view of the Ottoman period. At an official meeting in Ankara in 2016, she found that the Sultan’s harem was not bad for the women, but a useful “school of the Ottoman dynasty”.
Emine Erdogan shares her husband’s willingness to complain. For example, she has had news of her expensive handbags banned by court. She was spotted carrying a Hermès crocodile leather handbag at the G20 summit in Japan. Turkish media estimated the value of the bag at the equivalent of 45,000 euros. The pro-government newspaper Hürriyet tried to appease: the alleged Hermès handbag was actually a copy made in Türkiye. But that didn’t necessarily make things better, because Emine Erdogan would have made herself liable to prosecution if she had bought a counterfeit product. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu publicly advised the president’s wife to burn her handbag – this is what Turkish customs do with seized counterfeit luxury items.
During a state visit, on which she accompanied her husband to Brussels, she is said to have cordoned off several luxury shops in a shopping center by her security officers so that she could shop in peace, the Belgian newspaper “La Capitale” wrote. Sometimes Emine Erdogan doesn’t even have to pull out her credit card. At the opening of a shopping center in Moscow in 2005, a local Turkish jeweler gave her a necklace worth 27,000 euros as a gift. The gazettes were not interested in the significant political results of the trip to Russia, nor in gas deliveries and textile exports. Everything was outshined by the diamonds of Emine Erdogan. But it was not a good light that the glittering jewels cast on the Erdogans. The comments varied between malice, ridicule and outrage. After much back and forth, Emine Erdogan returned the expensive gift to the jeweler.
Above all, however, she rules over the private chambers of the 1,500-room Ak Saray palace that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had built in Ankara. There are rumors of silk wallpaper and carpets worth more than eight million euros. She only occasionally lets selected female journalists into her “modest” kitchen. To show how to ferment apple skins and dry mangoes. The building is four times larger than the Palace of Versailles. This is where all the threads of power come together. Only a few outsiders have been granted the privilege of entering the private chambers in which the President resides with his wife. There are reports of exquisite furniture, expensive carpets and silk wallpaper – even in the toilets.
An army of servants takes care of the presidential couple. A few weeks after the palace was completed in 2014, Emine Erdogan hosted a dinner for selected members of Islamic women’s associations there. Turkish media published photos showing the fine china and crystal glasses decorated with wide gold rims in which the staff served guests water and fruit juices. The former chairman of the Ankara Chamber of Architects estimated the value of each individual glass at the equivalent of 360 euros. The Turkish public owes further insights into palace life to a home story in the Islamist newspaper “Yeni Akit”. For example, the information that Emine Erdogan prefers white tea from Rize on the Black Sea, the home of her in-laws. The kilo price of this specialty is said to be the equivalent of 400 euros, according to other reports even 1,800 euros.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.