Project Management Institute

Anit Mezar (monument grave)

building the tomb of the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal

Project Management in Action


Ahmet Taspinar, Oakland, California


On April 17, 1993, Turgut Ozal, the eighth president of the Turkish Republic, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the presidential residence in Ankara. He was 66 years old and had been the president of Turkey since 1989. This is the story of the construction of Mr. Ozal's grave, which was accomplished in record time, utilizing fast-track planning and execution and advanced technology, by a project team that was determined to do their last duty for their beloved president.


At a meeting held in Istanbul on the evening of April 18, 1993, Mr. Hayri Kozakcioglu, the governor of Istanbul Province, assigned the construction of Mr. Ozal's grave to Yapi Merkezi Construction Inc. The funeral ceremony had been scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, April 22nd. The project was to be completed by 10 a.m. Thursday, leaving the contractor less than four days to design the tomb, secure the necessary permits, build the facility, landscape it and test the various operating systems.

The choice of Yapi Merkezi was neither a coincidence nor a special deal: the company had distinguished itself in dealing with fast-track projects, using innovative prefabrication and concrete technologies. Founded in 1965 by Ersin Arioglu and Koksal Anadol as a research and design group, the company engineered several public works projects with the principal goal of “using advanced technology to create a happy environment for people to live and work in.”


Turgut Ozal rose to worldwide prominence during the Gulf Crisis of 1990–91, when he became the first leader to apply the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. He was seen frequently on CNN, speaking on Middle East politics, Turkey, the new world order and on the need for international cooperation and friendship. He was a true believer in the democratic system of government and an optimist full of hope for a better world.

Turgut Ozal was born in 1927 in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya. He studied electrical engineering at the Technical University in Istanbul. He served as the general manager of the Electrical Planning Administration and later as the director of the State Planning Organization. His study of the market economies of the 1950s and his objective assessment of what the Turkish people wanted led him to develop a vision for Turkey. This vision became his agenda when he was given the task of forming and leading the Turkish government under the watchful eyes of the military leaders, following their September 1980 intervention to end terror and political instability in Turkey.

Turgut Ozal believed that the state ownership of industrial enterprises and the strict monetary controls under which the Turkish economy operated had run their course and become obsolete. Initiated in the early years of the Republic to establish a basic level of industrial self-sufficiency, the system had isolated Turkey politically and economically. The state -owned industrial enterprises posed a heavy burden on the Turkish taxpayer, and the tightly-controlled monetary system created a burgeoning black market that thrived at the expense of the state and the citizen. An exodus of skilled workers and professionals started in the late sixties, reaching critical levels during the political instability and reign of terror of the late 1970s. The military intervention of September 1980 ended the anarchy, and the new leaders of Turkey, seeing that the solution of the political problems depended on reforming the economic system, picked Mr. Ozal to lead the economic and political renaissance that transformed Turkey into a highly-respected ally of the West and a regional power dedicated to peace through trade and economic partnerships.

Photographs on this page courtesy of The Turkish Times

Photographs on this page courtesy of The Turkish Times

Under the liberal economic and monetary policies instituted by the Ozal government, Turkey's currency was allowed to float to find its true level against the hard currencies of the world. The buying and selling of foreign exchange became a free-enterprise function, ending the black market in dollars and marks. Exporters of Turkish goods and services were given financial incentives, which helped increase exports and develop new overseas markets. Import restrictions were lifted, making foreign goods and services available. A period of economic prosperity followed these measures.

The price of this prosperity was an overheated economy with annual inflation levels of 50-80 percent. The national debt that had been reduced to manageable levels under the military regime grew rapidly. Many Turks became concerned about the decline in moral standards and the loss of traditional values that often follow rapid increases in prosperity and materialism. Regardless of these concerns, the majority of Turkish people appear to continue to enjoy the abundance of goods and materials and the many forms of freedom that they have acquired under the implementation of the Ozal Vision.


The Turkish government, headed by then Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, decided to bury Mr. Ozal's body in Istanbul with full Islamic ceremony, as the late president had requested in his will.

Istanbul is a city of ten million people with a rich and turbulent history, located where Europe and Asia meet. Though it was settled many centuries ago, it did not become an important city until the Roman Emperor Constantine moved his capital there in the 4th century A.D. It served as the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and continued to be the major Turkish city even after Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the young Turkish Republic, decided to move the capital to Ankara, 450 kilometers away in the heartland of Asia Minor. Since 1980 the population of Istanbul has more than doubled, and the city has become a major center of international business and tourism.

In order to finish the tomb on time for the Thursday funeral, Yapi Merkezi construction crews worked around the clock

In order to finish the tomb on time for the Thursday funeral, Yapi Merkezi construction crews worked around the clock.

Yapi Merkezi established their construction group in 1969. Since then, they have constructed industrial parks, bridges, viaducts, touristic facilities and rail transit systems in Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East. Their subsidiary companies manufacture prestressed and precast concrete members and they own and operate tourist facilities in the Turkish Riviera on the Mediterranean. In recent years they have entered the construction business in the former communist bloc, building housing and public works projects in Russia, Poland and the Central Asian Republics.

The job Yapi Merkezi was assigned required the survey of the site that the late president had willed to be buried in, and getting the appropriate religious approvals for the orientation of the gravesite according to Islamic tradition. Mr. Ozal was a faithful Moslem, who respected everybody's right to enjoy full freedom of faith and beliefs. He had asked that he be given a traditional Moslem burial when he died.

Islam was founded in the seventh century A.D. by Mohammed, whom Moslems revere as the Messenger of God. The Arabic word for God, “Allah,” is used throughout the Islamic world of over one billion people, most of whom live in the western half of Asia and the northern half of Africa. Islamic tradition requires that the dead be buried in a special burial robe on bare ground, with the head tilted to the right and pointing toward Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, in present-day Saudi Arabia.

The sensitivity and the urgency of the work required the assignment of top-quality personnel, and Yapi Merkezi responded by appointing its board chairman, Dr. Ersin Arioglu, as project manager. Dr. Arioglu picked a project team composed of top-notch professionals, and they adopted the following project objectives:

  • The project will be run on a fast-track and technology-intensive basis.
  • The design, materials and labor will be selected to have the highest quality and precision that can be attained, in order to comply with presidential standards.
  • The grave will be built in compliance with religious beliefs.
  • The site will accommodate the needs of domestic and foreign visitors until a permanent facility is built.

The project would be schedule-driven; by the time the Yapi Merkezi project team was assembled and the project plan was ready at 3:30 Monday morning, only 78.5 hours were left for the project to be completed. Another four hours went by before work started on setting up the field office. Materials for early phases of construction were delivered to the site four hours later, at the same time as the approval of the project plan by the Istanbul Municipal Commission. When site preparation of the upper platform started at 11:30 a.m. on Monday only 70.5 hours were left for the project team to deliver Anit Mezar ready to bury the late President Ozal.



The project schedule, as reconstructed by the author in the English language, is shown on the preceding page.

The 15,000-square-meter site was on Vatan Avenue, near the E5 freeway, adjacent to the tomb of former premier Adnan Menderes. This part of Istanbul is on the European side of the city, in what used to be the walled city of Byzantium. An upper platform served as the entrance to the facility. Visitors would go down 29 precast concrete stairs to reach the lower platform, where the tomb was located. The lower platform consisted of a 20 x 30 meter area surrounded by light poles and trees, and paved with precast concrete paving stones. The tomb was to be built as a 6.40 x 8.00 meter cabinet, 2.10 meters deep with prefabricated concrete walls and it was to be covered with green granite marble on top. Torches would be placed on the four comers and two flagpoles would be installed on the east side. The bottom of the tomb would be left unpaved in keeping with Islamic tradition. Shown above is a plan view of the tomb and its surrounding area.

Immediately after receiving the assignment, the Yapi Merkezi team went to the construction site. The location of the field office, materials laydown areas, accessways and utilities connections were quickly planned and the team was mobilized. Design and construction planning were started immediately and completed the next morning, following an all-night effort.

Facing an inviolable deadline, the project team decided to maximize the use of precast and prefabricated memhers and work in a concurrent engineering mode. The upper and lower platforms would be connected by 9 x 15 x 650 cm precast stairs. manufactured by a subsidiary of Yapi Merkezi under the trade name of Panelton. A total of 1340 square meters of precast concrete paving stones were to be used on the upper and lower platforms. The inner wall panels of the tomb and the columns supporting the floodlights and border chains would be prefabricated offsite.


The construction of Anit Mezar took 60 hours of round-the-clock work by 20 engineers and technicians and 40 construction workers from Yapi Merkezi, supported by five subcontractor teams. The following quantities were installed:

  • Grading and Stabilization: 1,250 square meters
  • Landscaping: 650 square meters
  • Gravel: 780 cubic meters
  • Sand Fill: 90 cubic meters
  • Concrete: 150 cubic meters

The gravesite was on silty clay. The ground water level was high and had to be lowered through the use of a drainage system called Drain-flex. Special materials and methods were used in pouring concrete slabs. To speed up the curing of the lower platform concrete slab vacuum-drying was applied to the surface. Concrete side walls of the tomb were prefabricated offsite, using special additives to attain the desired strength within six hours.

The following table is a cost breakdown of Anit Mezar construction:

Cost Element Cost in US$ %
Materials 698,713 48
Equipment 221,879 15
Transportation   36,335 3
Direct Labor 218,162 15
Subcontracts   82,455 6
Construction subtotal 1,257,544 87
Engineering and Overhead   88,632 13
Grand Total 1,464,176 100


Mr. Ozal's body was transported from Ankara, where he died, to Istanbul, where he was to be buried, on the evening of Wednesday, April 21, 1993. The funeral ceremony took place Thursday afternoon, attended by international dignitaries, Turkish business, political and academic leaders, media representatives and hundreds of thousands of people. He was laid to rest at 5 p.m.


This is the story of a project that was managed with clear objectives, pinpoint planning, and continuous monitoring by an integrated project team that included the client, the engineer/contractor, the subcontractors, suppliers and all the officials that were involved in permit and religious approvals. When things did not work as planned, the team worked on solutions, not problems. Risks had been identified during the sleepless night of April 18, and contingent actions were planned, in case they were needed.

Turgut Ozal's funeral drew a crowd of thousands of mourners

Turgut Ozal's funeral drew a crowd of thousands of mourners.

The highest priority was given to meeting the schedule. Quality had the next priority and the cost was planned to be what it took to get the job done. However, every effort was made by the project team to avoid wasteful panic, employ the most efficient resources, materials and methods and deliver high quality on time at the least possible cost.

Anit Mezar has become a shrine for the millions who have visited the late President Ozal's resting place in the past year. It stands as a monument to a much admired leader of Turkey and to a project team that performed with great competence and dedication.


The author wishes to acknowledge the help and support he received from the following people:

Bonnie Kaslan, honorary consul general of Turkey in San Francisco, and her husband James Attila Kaslan, president of Kaslan Associates.

Dr. Ugur Akinci, editor of The Turkish Times in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ersin Arioglu, board chairman of Yapi Merkezi and Mr. Erdem Arioglu for their support with information, graphics and reviews, without which this paper could not have been written. img


Ahmet N. Taspinar, PMP is a management consultant providing project management training and consulting services to utilities, engineering/construction and information services industries. He has over 35 years of experience in petrochemical and energy projects and in management information systems development. He has worked for major international firms, including Mobil Oil, IBM, ARAMCO, SOHIO and Badger America (now Raytheon Engineers).

A member of PMI since 1977, he has been active as president of the Northern California PMI Chapter and on numerous chapter and CCP committees. He holds an M.S. in civil engineering from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Northeastern.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • April 1994



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