Serkan Alan / DUVAR

Suspicious death of a man on March 17, who worked at the ticket booth of Istanbul’s iconic Dolmabahçe Palace, raised questions whether he died of novel coronavirus and the state concealed the facts. The main opposition Repubican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Utku Çakırözer submitted a number of parliamentary questions to Vice President Fuat Oktay asking why dead man’s coworkers were pressured to remain silent about the case.

Within the scope of the measures taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic, all of the Turkey’s palaces that are frequently visited as museums were closed on March 18.

The Office of National Palaces, which is managed by the Presidency, allegedly pressured M.K.’s coworkers to not share with the public the circumstances of M.K.’s death, the cause of which was ruled pneumonia but is suspected to be coronavirus. 

The Dolmabahçe Palace, located in the central Istanbul district of Beşiktas on the coast of the Bosphorus, was built in the 19th century as the residence for the Ottoman sultan, and was later used by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, as a summer home. Atatürk passed away in 1938 in the palace, which is a popular destination for local and foreign tourists alike. 

“Despite knowing that there was a global epidemic, tourists continued to visit vacation spots, archaeological sites and palaces like Dolmabahçe for weeks. The employees there were continually in contact with the tourists. Unfortunately precautions were taken much too late. The woman working at the ticket booth, while her father was in the hospital, shared a post on social media saying ‘Why is the Dolmabahçe Palace open, isn’t this a shame for my father? Who will pay for this sin’,” Çakırözer said. 

“On the day of M.K.’s funeral, the palaces finally were closed. Now I’m asking, who will pay for this sin, this lack responsibility, this insensitivity?” Çakırözer added. 

“What kind of mentality is it to use this pandemic as an opportunity and post a photo of tourists coming to Dolmabahçe Palace from every corner of the world while hundreds of workers, like the [recently] deceased ticket booth employee, are working at the booths and other sections without any precautions being taken?” said Çakırözer, referring to a tweet posted on March 11 by the Office of National Palaces which included a photograph of a group of Thai tourists wearing masks and a caption that read iIn spite of the pandemic we have many visitors coming to our sites’ and which was later deleted from the institution’s account.

Regarding the death of M.K., Çakırözer submitted a number of parliamentary questions to Vice President Fuat Oktay. He asked why the National Palaces were not closed until March 18 despite the first case of coronavirus in Turkey being announced on March 11, and how many tourists visited the palaces managed by the institution during that week. He inquired about the number of employees working at Dolmabahçe Palace and if they had received health screenings.