Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday inaugurated the “Türkevi” (Turkish House) in New York City, a 36-story high rise that cost Turkey $291.2 million to build, amid criticism that the money could have been put to better use, especially at a time when university students in Turkey are protesting high dormitory and rental prices.
The building at 821 First Avenue in Manhattan, just across from United Nations headquarters, uses traditional Turkish architectural motifs, rises to the sky in the shape of a tulip and can be seen from downtown Manhattan, the East River and Long Island, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Monday.
Erdoğan said during the opening ceremony that the building will stand as a reflection of Turkey’s place on the world stage ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, in 2023.
The president added that the building, which houses Turkey’s UN permanent mission as well as the Turkish Consulate General, will serve for decades to come as a symbol of Turkey’s diplomatic success.
A number of social media users shared photos of the Türkevi under the hashtag #barınamıyoruz (We can’t shelter) in reference to a group of university students who call themselves the “We Can’t Shelter” movement and are conducting vigils in which they sleep outdoors so as to protest high dormitory and rental prices.
Some users argued that the $291.2 million spent on the construction of the high rise would have been enough to build student dormitories in Turkey to house 35,000 students.
“They’re bragging about erecting a building in New York for $291 million. Youngsters in Turkey are sleeping in parks because there’s no dormitory. Showing off is more important [for the government] than young people,” journalist Mustafa Hoş said in a tweet.
Tunahan Elmas, a founding member of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), also tweeted that he can’t be proud of a building that was erected in the heart of New York City and will be used by only a lucky minority when thousands of university students in Turkey are considering suspending their registration because they can’t find housing.
“We pride ourselves for erecting a 35-story building in New York. … We exaggerated it so much that it’s as if we built the first building of this size in a city of skyscrapers. There are tens of buildings similar to ours there,” former Turkish ambassador to the US Namık Tan noted.
The inauguration ceremony also attracted criticism since it included by prayers said by Professor Ali Erbaş, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) who recently came under fire for promoting Erdoğan’s agenda using Islamic references and making controversial comments on a wide range of issues from homosexuality to the use of social media.
Erbaş formerly drew criticism for accompanying Erdoğan and Mehmet Akarca, president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, during a ceremony marking the opening of a new building for the court and the start of the 2021-2022 judicial year on Sept. 1.
Akarca, Erdoğan and Erbaş stood side by side during the ceremony in which Akarca in his judge’s robe joined the top imam’s prayers marking the new judicial year, a scene slammed by many for violating the principle of secularism.