Head of Atatürk mausoleum sacked after controversial opposition mayor visit

Turkish authorities removed the military officer in charge of the mausoleum of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk over a controversial visit by Istanbul’s opposition mayor during the period after local elections on March 31, secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported on Friday.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu visited the mausoleum after the initial results showed that he had beat his rival, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildrim, to win the crucial mayoral seat in Turkey’s largest city.

İmamoğlu laid a wreath at the mausoleum in a ceremony that sparked controversy after he signed his name in the book, followed by the title “Mayor of Istanbul”, although the results of the election had not been officially verified.

The Ministry of Defence later released a statement saying the ceremony had been conducted inappropriately.

Colonel Cüneyt Rakunt was the military officer in charge of the mausoleum during the visit. His dismissal goes against the customary practice, which states the commander in charge remains on duty for two years and will be appointed as full general at the end of the service, Cumhuriyet said.

Rakunt was removed after one year and drafted into service at the Turkish General Staff headquarters instead of being promoted to full general, according to Cumhuriyet.

İmamoğlu was elected mayor of Istanbul in the March 31 nation-wide local elections after narrowly defeating ruling AKP’s candidate Yıldırım. However, his time in office was short-lived, as the country’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) annulled the vote and ordered a redo following an appeal by the AKP citing fraud. The CHP mayor won the June 23 rerun, extending his lead to over 800,000 votes.