ANKARA (Reuters) - Warriors from Turkic history, some in chainmail, others bearing spears, will be a regular feature of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s welcome for foreign leaders, sources at his office said, after their first outing drew ridicule from opponents.
Months after the inauguration of a vast new palace complex, Erdogan’s efforts to imbue more pomp into the previously largely ceremonial role of head of state took an unexpected turn during this week’s visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Official pictures from the welcome ceremony on Monday showed Abbas and Erdogan posing at the bottom of a staircase, with 16 soldiers arrayed behind them in a range of historical costumes, complete with ornate helmets, swords and spears.
The pictures sparked a storm of reaction on social media - some of it ridicule - with digitally altered mock-ups replacing the costumed guards with characters from the films Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Leading Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who lost to Erdogan in last year’s presidential poll, told local TV channel Haberturk that Erdogan could have completed the picture by dressing up as “Ibrahim the Mad”, a 17th century sultan.
Presidential sources said each soldier represented a period of Turkic history, from the central Asian Hunnic Empire of 200 BC all the way through to the Ottoman Empire that was dissolved in 1922. They also said the soldiers would be a feature of future welcoming ceremonies.
Celebrating Turkic historical might is not without its supporters, particularly among nationalists loyal to the ruling AK Party, keen to bolster its support in the run-up to parliamentary elections in June.
“Those who are disturbed by the 16 guardians at the presidency, tell them to go join a crusader army,” wrote one prominent AKP supporter on Twitter, likening the Queen of England’s carriage to that of Cinderella.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Hugh Lawson