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“Blind to the Landscape: Turkification in Occupied Istanbul”

Authors: Amy Mills*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Cultural Geography, Urban Geography, Middle East
Keywords: ethnonationalism, urban landscape, humor, Turkey
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


How did Turks in Istanbul come to identify with Turkish ethnonationalism before the foundation of the Turkish Republic? This research is based on a study of representations of urban culture and politics in a humor gazette called Diken (Thorn) published immediately after the First World War, when Istanbul was occupied by Allied forces, and the Ottoman Empire was in the last phases of losing its territories to Europe. Humor gazettes have long played a central role in Turkish politics and were the primary popular platform from which to debate the causes and futures of Istanbul's lost status as the Ottoman imperial capital. Two of the most important developments during and after the war were economic Turkification, including the violent transfer of wealth and property from non-Muslim minorities (especially Armenians) to Turks, and the emergence of a Turkish nouveau riche who benefited from wartime profiteering. Although new and ill-gotten wealth was dramatically and abundantly visible in the urban landscape, the sources of this wealth became a taboo topic. Istanbulite Turks learned how not to see (and eventually forget) the sources of postwar Turkish urban wealth by turning it into an open secret: known but not acknowledged. The postwar period is an especially rich moment for examining the making of open secrets because it occurs before the foundation of the Turkish Republic and thus the more obvious role of the modern state in authoring nationalist narratives of history that silence minority experiences.

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