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Turkish President Has All Meals Tested

Turkish Presidential palace in Ankara.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently taken to having all of his food tested for chemicals and poison by a professional team of 5 scientists, who work in a lab in the presidential palace for 14 hours a day. The news of this comes as Mr. Erdogan has been facing increasing ridicule in recent months for his extravagance. Recently, Mr. Erdogan greeted the visiting President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, with a flank of 16 soldiers dressed in full Ottoman warrior garb, complete with shields, swords, and spears in what was dubbed an “Ottoman Circus” on some social media accounts.

In what the Guardian describes as “Increasing Megalomania,” Mr. Erdogan has lived lavishly in a country troubled by public unrest for the last 12 years of his rule. Accusations of extreme opulence, ranging from $1000 drinking glasses, to large slabs of meat at every meal come in stark contrast to the average Turkish citizen, who may not be able to afford any meat in his meals. Even the presidential palace is a symbol of egomania and extravagance, a $600 million mansion situated in the heart of Anakra is reminiscent of the palaces of old Ottoman sultans.

The New York Times points out that the founder of Modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had a personal food taster for fear of poison. It is rare, however, for the administration to publish the details of the President’s culinary diagnostics, especially amid such growing criticism.

Erdogan was criticized heavily in 2013 for his heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators who sought to preserve the historic Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in Istanbul. Police beat protestors and fired tear gas into crowds, setting off a media spectacle in Turkey and showing similarities to Egypt’s Tahrir square, which toppled Hosni Mubarak. The question then becomes: “Is Erdogan digging his own grave?”

The President of Turkey serves a term of 5 years and can be reelected only once. Erdogan had previously served as the country’s Prime Minister from 2003-2014, and was elected to the Presidency last year. If current trends continue, reelection for Mr. Erdogan looks dim in 2019.

President Erdogan has, notably, been wildly inconsistent in his political leanings, beginning his political career as a firebrand Islamist, sharply critical of Turkey’s secular order and falling through moderate and back to de-facto Autocrat, having declared his intention to rewrite the constitution in 2010 during his tenure as Prime Minister to create a presidential system of government, which he would take the helm of in 2014. The Constitution of Turkey was written in 1982, a mere decade before Erdogan began his political career.

The Republic of Turkey is a relatively infantile nation; born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1920, the country has been at the crossroads of Islamism and western capitalism since its founding. Turkey was one of the charter members of the United Nations and joined the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952. Turkish-U.S. relations have always been amicable, with a sharp decline in recent years as a result of the Iraq war. The Turks view the destabilization of Iraq as an impetus for Kurdistan to declare independence from the Republic and from Northern Iraq. A sticking point in the relations is the ongoing cold war between Turkey and Armenia, with Turkey refusing to admit any role in the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Turkey is deeply divided on the issue of normalization of relations with Armenia, and many have stressed that President Erdogan should fulfill the promise of former President Gül to normalize relations between the two countries, but so far efforts have failed.

Turkey’s Semi-Presidential system of government has both a prime minister and a President. Technically, Russia also has a Semi-Presidential government, but President Putin, for all intents and purposes, is essentially the sole leader of the country. The parallels between Putin and Erdogan are staggering, with excessive displays of opulence and extravagance, and a thirst for control that cannot be quenched.

Which brings us full circle: Erdogan may just have gone too far by creating a food testing laboratory in the Presidential palace, one of many examples of abuse of power and governmental waste, despite the increasing number of starving citizens in Turkey, who can’t eat, much less have their food tested for poisons.




  1. nrassam3 says:

    That is the track every middle eastern president follows, once they get elected they feel as if they are entitled to the throne for eternity. End up depriving the country of it’s financial resources. I don’t get the purpose of this whole Ottoman show though, is it as an answer to Israel’s prime minister show at the white house?

  2. mdsmith910 says:

    I certainly feel as though he’s digging himself a grave as far as reelection. It’s kind of a cyclical event, I mean I understand why he would want his food tested, but he wouldn’t have to do it in the first place if people didn’t have a reason to dislike him. I think he needs to reevaluate his goals for his country, otherwise nothing but growing discontent is going to happen.

  3. Travis says:

    From all of the things you’ve stated in your blog post, he may need to actually keep his food lab…….just in case. The image that he is currently forming for himself is not a good one. He is a political figure, displaying his riches and power, while his citizens need attention and guidance. Even if he were attending his duties as president, his actions will make those who are not aware of his good actions/ deeds think that he is not attending to his state of affairs. If he wanted to, he could better his situation and image by publicly donating or contributing to causes and organizations that have a significant impact on the public. It will be interesting to see how his attitudes and character change as it gets closer to time for reelection.

  4. emartin36 says:

    I think that if the president of a country is that afraid of being poisoned by his citizens, he needs to reevaluate how he is running the country. In the 21st century, there should not be a reason to have this done. Honestly, if I were him, I would be most concerned with my public relations policy.

    • dnicoloso3 says:

      It’s a perfectly normal thing for high officials in government to ensure their own security. The means of this looks different in different countries. The US president rarely goes anywhere without a significant detail of secret service, and how is that any better than having food tested for poison. Security of your governmental leader is always a relatively high priority.

      • jenglish7 says:

        Really, it’s the publicity of the thing that I find questionable. While there is no doubt that security of a high ranking official is paramount, publicizing that information to the degree that the Turkish president seems to be doing is unusual. Given the disconnect that seems to exist between the president and the Turkish people, he is only widening the gap by continuing to flaunt his social status.

  5. lmoghimi3 says:

    This is not the first time a country has gotten mad at its ruler for living in excess while the everyday person is struggling. In all of the other examples it usually does not end well for the ruler. Unfortunately, they have him for another for years. It is surprising that he is already so disliked that he felt the need to start testing his food and he has only been in office for a year. I too would be interested to see what his reelection strategy will be.

  6. wcarter31 says:

    A quick look into Erdogan’s past reveals that he appears to have had a relatively privileged life, complete with formal education and a semi-professional soccer career. Growing up privileged and then holding a high government office over a country may have had a strong influence on his lavish lifestyle he leads now, and it may also increase the divide between him and the poor people of Turkey – He can’t identify with them because he doesn’t seem to have been in their shoes.

    • amiteichenbaum says:

      This is an interesting point, and it made me think about the bottleneck that occurs during elections. Only certain people are even able to afford an education, not to mention the financial side of becoming a candidate, running, etc. So there’s this environment where the only people who become leaders don’t represent the people because they are only able to run by being in a different class. We see this in all countries, but I often think about the states and the sheer cost of even participating in an election. How can a leader represent the people when in order to be a leader, you can’t be a common person?

  7. ashumway3 says:

    I’d like to propose a counter position. While I agree that overspending in Turkey is a huge problem that has lead to a wide economic disparity in the country, I don’t think that this food lab is a major indicator of that trend. It seems like a relatively small issue to focus, but you do bring up some other very good examples. Instead, we should be criticizing the Turkish government for the oppressive rule of their citizens (including violations of freedom of speech like the Twitter ban of 2014). After all, is it not feasible that President Obama also has his food tested by the Secret Service to ensure his safety, but it’s not heavily publicized? It hardly seems over the top with our level of technology to take preventative measures to assure the safety of a figure as important as the president. Otherwise, I completely agree that Erdogan needs to reign in his overspending and instead focus on improving the economic situation in Turkey.

  8. trevormcelhenny says:

    It’s not really that uncommon for the offices of high ranking officials to employ people to screen the foods. The secret service does it for the president. However, while they may not run a sophisticated chemical laboratory, the people who are involved with preparing/cooking food in the white house have all been security screened. And when the president dines out, you can bet the secret service will have a few agents in the kitchen.

    Employing 5 scientists for 14hrs a day is a bit much, and hints toward paranoid delusions. I do like the Ottoman warrior armor though. That’s just cool!

  9. missypittard says:

    You would think if he is having to have all meals tested for poison, he would recognize the need for change, whether in his lifestyle or leadership. He clearly recognizes he is not in good favor with the citizens of Turkey, but how does he rationalize this need for excessive protection measures. Does he think he is doing what is best for the country, or too megalomaniac to know when to stop?

  10. lalaninatl says:

    If the higher officials and the president are so scared from dying from their own people, the security increase might be justified. Think about our president. He has secret service close down all roads for travel, screen everywhere he goes, and basically control everyone that see/photograph him. However, this does seem on the extreme end. There needs to be more justification to employ 5 scientists for one person.

  11. vlobo3 says:

    It isn’t bad to actually create this lab, but rather that the reasons for creating this lab are being ignored. If the president is responding in this way to constant unrest among his citizens, something clearly needs to be changed. It is such a travesty that this was allowed to escalate without any governmental intervention.

  12. cryan3232 says:

    Anytime a president is scared that he is being poisoned by his own people due to his actions, it may be time to reevaluate some of their practices. The abuse of power in regard to the extravagant lifestyle is not a problem that is unique to Turkey, but I do not think this is a smart thing to do when the country democratically elects their president every 5 years. Unless some significant changes are made to his practices I would be shocked if the people of Turkey wanted to stick with him just because he is alienating himself from the common citizen.

  13. apabst3 says:

    I guess food testers can still find work. It baffles me that in 2015 leaders are still worried about getting poisoned. I also think the way he flaunts his wealth is something straight out of the 18th or 19th century. I don’t think Erdogan’s rule will end well. He obviously has his priorities completely twisted. Hopefully Turkey can find a leader who cares about the Turkish population and wants to improve the country instead of just flaunting their power.

  14. jyount6 says:

    He may even try to wrestle more power for himself by declaration in the future if he is not re-elected. This could easily lead to an overthrow of the government if he does not relinquish power after his term is over. History has definitely proven that when corruption is this prevalent so high in the governmental ranks that something is going to happen that is going to make things worse for those living in the country in question. Not to say things aren’t bad already, but at least the country is relatively stable in this region. Foreign relations on the other hand could become stressed.

  15. mlucchi says:

    The way leaders of many nations keep control is by displaying dominance and superiority, by having an extravagant lifestyle with luxuries and opulent ceremonies . This is obviously not the best way to govern, but possibly easier maybe? Erogden is probably following suit of other leaders in the region.

  16. ssweeny3 says:

    Greed is a dangerous sin to fall into. This is prevalent here in the president of Turkey. If we thought unnecessary spending as a percentage of total government income was bad in America, I cannot even imagine what it is in Turkey. But it seems that everybody has come to the same conclusion, that this is the typical story with Middle Eastern Presidents/Autocrats. They come into power, with good intentions or not, and eventually fall into greed and spend all this government money on things. Now, while this is obviously an atrocity, it can be good for the United States. If the leaders of these countries have an obsession, i.e. money, then America can use this to become allies with them. Especially if ISIS gets too out of hand and America needs Turkey as a strong ally, then they can use money as an incentive.

  17. corypope6 says:

    We have seen this trend recur throughout recent history with leaders in newly democratized countries being electing ‘democratically’ (whether that’s true or not is debatable) and then assuming a totalitarian mindset. Why does this continually happen? Why does the President (dictator) of a country rise up through the ranks claiming to be a man of the people and then completely go against his supposed beliefs once he is elected? I think this goes back to the election. Many times the democratic elections in developing young countries are not democratic at all. Often a party coerces people to vote for them or rigs the voting system so that they will win and can then help themselves and neglect the populace. The only solution to this problem is to somehow ensure an actual democratic election.

  18. kimpgt says:

    It is ridiculous that the head of a government lives such a lavish lifestyle when his country suffers from public unrest and close to famine.
    I think he is bold for wanting to rewrite the Turkish constitution. However, if their constitution has discrepancies in power holding or rights for the people of Turkey, I think amendments would be beneficial, but it should be rewritten with a committee and various parties should be involved for a more representative perspective. I think it is ok that he has his food tested and publishes the diagnostics. The people of Turkey should know what is going on in their government and how safety is ensured. My perspective is that regardless of how much the public dislike their authority, the rulers are still in control and should be protected because they lead the country. If threats have been detected in the cuisine, then all measures should be taken to ensure that the government and the people are safe.

  19. jackjenkins2015 says:

    I agree with many people that the move to get food tested for the President is actually very common. However, the actions of flaunting his wealth and expenditures is, in my opinion, not a very wise move. It is sad to me to see countries that have leaders who spend lavish amounts of money on themselves when there are so many hungry people. However, you could probably find a similar attitude present in many countries, perhaps even our own. I do think that the move to publicly discuss his food-testing methods was a display of force to show that he is prepared to handle people trying to kill him.

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