I learned one truth in my travels. This state has two spiritual foundations. The call to prayer that Mehmed the Conqueror had sung from the minarets of Hagia Sophia? It is still sung! The Qur'an thatSelim had read in the Pavilion of the Mantle of the Prophet? It is still read!
Selective remembrance of the past was vital for the newly established Turkish republic. As a newly established state, the Turkish government needed to create an identity juxtaposed to the established identities that were rampant during the Ottoman Era, with the Ottoman-Islamic identity being the most prominent. However, the new state was established on the principles of nationalism, rationalism, and secularism. Thus, the Turkish government could not utilize the previously widespread Islamic identity, nor can it embody the identity of its former ruler, the Ottoman. Therefore, the state began to invest its efforts in establishing a nationalistic Turkish identity that was fundamentally devoid of both Ottoman and Islamic influence and necessity. This project largely began in the 1930’s, almost a decade after the establishment of the Republic. It encompassed the name of different facets including a shift to the Latin alphabet re-education. For the purpose of this paper, the Turkish National Thesis was by far the most influential. In an effort to rewrite history, the Turkish government financed a “new” view which proposed that the Turkish people had a long history before the advent of Islam and the Ottoman empire, which in turn produced a great Turkish civilization that lefts its mark upon most civilization afterwards. This new historiographical world-view that re-enforced the proposed nationalistic Turkish identity was instilled in altering the landscape of Istanbul, the previous Ottoman capital. The Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi were two key monuments that captured the essence of Ottoman-Islamic rule and thus. The Turkish government needed to either destroy these monuments or reinvent them to fit into their newly proposed identity. The latter was chosen, and through altering and selectively remembering the past, were able to secularize and transform them into museums that highlighted the triumphs of the new republic at the expense of the old Ottoman regime.
Historicizing the period
The time period that this paper will focus on cover spans from the beginning of the Republic in the 1920’s to the 1930’s. This block of time depicts the struggle that the Kemalist government faced as they attempted to consolidate power and rework the new Turkish State under the heavy hand and vision of its leader, Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” (1881-1938). Soner Cagaptay has characterized 1920s and the 1930’s, into two distinct time periods each with their own specific and unique characteristics. For Cagaptay, the 1920’s was an era wherein Turkey was recovering from the devastation, both material and demographic, brought on by the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, the First World War, and the Greco-Turkish War of 1920-22. Thus, Cagaptay characterizes this period as “a period of physical and political re-structuring when Ataturk had focused his energy on establishing a secular republic”.
The clearest example of the political re-structuring was the struggle between the nationalists (the Ankara Circle) and the Istanbul Circle, the latter, defined by Ozoglu as those who did not support the Ankara movement, in particular, the royalists. This struggle is highlighted with the “Incident of 150ers” (Yuzellilikler Olayi) wherein the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) included a causes that stipulated that while there was to be a general amnesty towards those who were cooperating with the enemy (against the new Turkish Republic), the Turks had a right to name 150 people of Muslim origin that would be excluded from the general amnesty. This comprehensive lists provides a good indicator of the people and factions that made the Ankara Circle nervous and they included: Vahdettin’s circle who were not members of the dynasty, Ottoman Cabinet members who assumed responsibility for the anti-Ankara caliphal army, those who signed the Treaty of Sevres, members of the Caliphal Army, Ethem “the Circassian” and his associates, Delegates in the Circassian Congress, police officer who cooperated with the occupying forces, and journalists who were in opposition to the Ankara Circle. Thus, what is interesting about this list is the decision to exclude the Kurds, even though the Kemalists were aware of Kurdish nationalism and their potential threat (which was shown in the 1925 Sheikh Said rebellion). However, rather than expelling Kurdish leaders, the Ankara Circle decided to include a large Circassian group, a number of which were inconsequential Circassian nationalists. Ozoglu argues that this is because the Circassians were traditionally close to the Ottoman rule and royalty and therefore, the Ankara Circle was worried that they would ally themselves with the foreign powers. Therefore, this period can be defined as a period of political re-structuring especially to uproot the previous Ottoman dynasty, as Ataturk believed that “as long as the Ottoman dynasty resided in Turkey, the opponents of Ankara would be encouraged.”
The beginning of the1930’s marked a break from 1920’s in terms of its priorities and focuses. In the 1930’s, the Republic was more firmly established and the country had ben rebuilt and thus, the state was able to shift from the previous priority of consolidating its rule and stamping out the supporters of the previous Ottoman dynasty to ideology and state building. The ideologies that the state would focus on were outlined in a speech given by Ataturk on September 24, 1931 where he declared that the main principles of Kemalism was republicanism, nationalism, populism, etatism, secularism, and reformism.
However, it is important to note that this teleological periodization of time as distinct periods, each with its unique characteristics, has its faults and is utilized in an effort to show the shifts within government policy in a way that is more approachable and simplistic. The government did indeed feel more confident in the 1930’s than in the previous era and therefore was able to move ahead with its nationalistic plans; however, to say it began in 1930 would oversimplify reality. Furthermore, even in the 1930’s, government policy was in no way clear-cut and there were still debates on a number of different issues. One example would be on the membership of ethnic minorities in the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Although by law, CHP membership was to be open only to ethnic Turks and closed to non-Turks, on May 5, 1933, there was still confusion on this issue and is exemplified by the need for a memorandum addressing this. This shows that the local branches of the CHP still were trying to decide whether or not the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Jews were Turks and thereby displaying a lack of cohesion and confusion between theory and practice. This is also true with secularism and the idea that after the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1924 and the subsequent shifts in other religious policies in the 1920s did not create a secular state in the 1930’s. The state had become more secular but there was a gap between theory and practice and therefore caution is necessary when using terms such as, “by the beginning of the 1930’s, when a secular republic (My italics) had been firmly established….”
The policies and goals of the aforementioned eras align with the decision for the museumifcation of the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi. The attempt to uproot and supplant the old Ottoman dynasty and its representations in the 1920’s would be a reason for the secularization and repossession of both the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi, two Ottoman monuments that dominated the skyline of Istanbul. Furthermore, it was during the 1930’s wherein the Kemalists were able to begin to write a nationalist discourse, ie the Turkish National Thesis, that would influence and direct the secularization of the aforementioned monuments and Turkish architectural style.
Turkish National Thesis
Turkey was one of the few non-European states that never succumbed to colonial suzerainty and therefore, the construction of a collective Turkish identity was facilitated by the resistance against colonialism. Rather than attempting to write an original, source based history, the authors of this “new” Turkish history used already established “facts” that were utilized by the West in their narratives, to produced their own Turkish history that would supplant and expose the falsities of the teleological narcissistic history of the West and show how the “facts” used by them actually showed the greatness of the Turkic people. These “facts” were grounded in the sciences, such as geology, archaeology, and linguists and thus were seen as “neutral” and therefore, if correctly used, could be recycled to create a new master history for the Turkish people. Thus, the Turkish National Thesis attempted to uncover and rediscover the “genius and character of Turks, showing Turks their own specialties and strength” and showing the civilizational capabilities of the Turks. It argued that the Turks had always been civilized and that the ancient Turks, who had civilized Central Asia, had brought the light of civilization to places such as China, India, Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, Anatolia, and the Aegean. The Turks migrated places where they claim that the “true natives had no civilization”. Thus, the notion that the Turkish people are the truth light of the world and that they bring civilization with them, and a counter to the Hegalian conception of history which argued, how like the sun moves from East to West, so does civilization, which moved from China, to India, to the Middle East until finally resting on Europe. Rather, the Turks were the true founders of Western civilization for they brought the light of civilization to the Sumar, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and that this can be proven through linguistics and thus, rationale science. The languages of the Sumerians, Etruscans, and Hittite, all of which were potentially proto-Indo-European languages, fall under the linguistic category of Turkish. This attempt to draw a connection linguistically to the early and Western civilizations also appears in the racial claims, also based on scientific reason, that the Turks were in fact a white and brachycephalic race. Rather than to be placed in the category of yellow races, which were considered by Europeans as secondary people, the Turkish National Thesis argued that even though they originated from Central Asia, the Turks were, in reality, belonging to the White race.
The Turkish National Thesis was the project of the Turkish Historical Commission, which was established on April 23, 1930 and in that year published A General outline of Turkish History, which was written under the guidance of Ataturk himself. The following year (1931), a four-volume set of high school history textbooks was published and between the years of 1933-1936, sixty-six follow up projects were produced. The purpose of the Turkish National Thesis was (1) to secularize Turkish history and also the historical worldview through science and reason; (2) to remove the Eurocentric perception of world history and thus, turning the focus of history eastwards rather than westwards; (3) to expose the archaism of the Ottoman past as backwards and irrational with its use of religion; (4) to show that Turkish history had a glorious past prior to the rise of the Ottomans and Islam. Therefore, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi, both of which were beacons of the Ottoman past, were to be supplanted and this was done in conjuncture to the Historical National Thesis. The Ottoman monuments were a symbol of the archaistic Ottoman rule and with the rise of the Historical National Thesis, the need to hark back to the Ottoman past was no longer necessary, rather, the State could first downplay and discredit the Ottoman past, and through new architectural forms, accentuate the glories of the Turkic past, thereby strengthening the new states claim to the Anatolian heartland through a new nationalists identity.
Methodology and theories
Foucault asserts that knowledge and power and intertwined with one another and that the more complex power structures become, the knowledge that they produce allows for the existence of Modernity. Therefore, as power increase, it allows for the creation of specific knowledge and vice-versa. Furthermore, the concept of governmentality also plays a role in knowledge production and thus, shape identity and knowledge. The knowledge that is produced by government institutions (Universities, organizations, NGO’s) all shape the way that we view the world and through organized practices (mentalities, rationalities, and techniques) enable the governance of a people. This paper will use the theories of Foucault as mentioned above, which in turn shaped theories in Archeology in an attempt to provide new insight into the way in which the creation of museums shape identity and nationalism. Archeology, like museums, is a discipline that is highly susceptible to political influences and pressures for the needs of the state and thus uses the “past” in order to justify their authority and rule. States need to create and ensure that its citizens possess a “consciousness of togetherness” and this is especially true for states that have a multi-ethnic characteristic or they risk a social and cultural disintegration. Therefore a shared language and/or shared past and future allow for the impression or feeling of unity, belongingness, and culture which can be created through history or archeology, and in this case, museums. Thus is created a paradigm of an “us” who have a shared present and future and those who are do not, the “other”. This shared present and future also requires a shared past which creates a shared memory, yet the past, in which ever form it is manifested in, such as archeological sites, or museums, need to be contextualized and interpreted and even though archeology is indeed a scientific discipline, the past is shaped by the manipulation and interests of agents who want to create pasts that fit the interests of the present. There political manipulation is fundamentally inherent in archeology because tangible pasts have no voice of their own and because “material objects can move easily from the physical to the symbolical realm.” The voice that is created for these material objects might not have been anticipated by the original makers or the archeologist yet is placed on the object in an effort to politicalize it. The object may seem to be stable and supported but is in fact dynamic and is constantly molded by the pressures exerted externally by social discourse. In Turkey, during the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish republic, archeological practices and the founding of museums were seen as a “barometer of the successful Westernization projects” and therefore, are shaped by social discourse.
Another theory that is applicable to this paper is the application of Edward Said’s concept of the “other”. This other was necessary within Turkish Modernity in order to show the progress of the Republic in contrast to showing the irrationality, weakness, and barbarity of the Ottoman Empire or “the other”. In other words, the “other” was everything that was wrong and that it was the obstacle towards modernity and the country. It was what allowed the Turkish people to fall behind.
These theories can explain the motives behind the Republic’s decision to secularize both the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi and their subsequent museumification.
The Hagia Sophia, also known as the Aya Sophia, was the central mosque of the Ottoman sultan since its capture in 1453 until 1932 when it was made into a museum. The Hagia Sophia was the first Imperial Mosque of the Ottoman Empire and was attended by the Sultan on the Jumu'ah. The questions that need to be asked are: How was it possible to secularize and musuemify a Muslim monument? Why was the Hagia Sophia chosen? What was the motive behind it? And what was the process and methods employed to secularize and museumification the Hagia Sophia?
As shown in the previous section, by the 1930’s, the State was much more firmly in power and the Turkish opponents to the state had been largely repressed. Furthermore, in the 1930’s, the government had begun a campaign to construct a new Turkish nationalistic discourse in order to supplant the previous multi-ethnic, ottoman, Islamic identity. Therefore, it was in the 1930’s that Ataturk felt he could transform the Hagia Sophia from a monument of the Islamic Ottoman Empire into a secular Museum and use it to strengthen his own nationalistic discourse and construction. This is concurrent with the argument that Ankara also did not feel confident enough to abolish both the Sultanate and the Caliphate with the same stroke. The abolishment of the Caliphate has been seen by some scholars as not necessarily a move to abolish the office of the Caliphate but to remove the dynasty and its threat. Yet, Ataturk was cautious then and similarly, was cautious and waited for a motive to secularize and museumification the Hagia Sophia.
The decision to make the Hagia Sophia into a museum rather than a number of other Ottoman mosques is based on its previous history prior to the Ottomans. With the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Sultan himself decided to transform the symbol of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Constantinople, and Imperial Byzantine rule, into a mosque and thereby using this monument to strengthen the Sultan’s rule, legitimacy, and power. However, for Ataturk and the new state, this once Christian Church turned Imperial Mosque became a symbol of the past sultanate and as a monument that dominated the skyline, would remind the citizens of Istanbul of the glories and might of the recently disposed Ottoman sultanate and caliphate. Thus, in order to thwart its potential dangers, Ataturk re-appropriated the Hagia Sophia and by transforming it into a museum, would expose its Christian elements, along side its Islamic additions through secularization, and commodification. This falls inline with the theories put forth by archeologists that changing previous interpretations of existing material evidence, such as any Ottoman Mosque’s, is difficult because they are anchored in the material and thereby participants “can point to material evidence to support his or her claims”. However, by exposing its Christian past, the state weakens the Ottomans identity on the monument and the “consciousness of togetherness” that the Ottomans had created and thereby re-appropriating the past.
The re-appropriation of its past was not only to allow for it secularization and commodification but also to strengthen the paradigm put forth by the Turkish Historical Thesis. As mentioned before, one of the goals of the Turkish Historical Thesis was to create a history for the Turks prior to and that excluded the Ottomans. The Ottomans were the “other” like the Orient was the “other” for the Occident. Turkish modernity was pegged on viewing and portraying the Ottomans as something negative and backwards and therefore, the nationalistic Turkish state needed to rewrite history and create a proud and glories Turkish past that superseded the Ottomans. By weakening the Ottomans hold on such a dominating and powerful monument would strengthen the goals of the Turkish Historical Thesis. Furthermore, the move to secularize and transform the Hagia Sophia into a museum would also eliminate its Islamic identity, an identity that the new state wanted to supplant with a secular Turkish nationalistic identity, all the while increasing its tourism value by catering it towards a Christian audience who could visit it in either or both a religious or secular attitude. The Hagia Sophia would have its solely Ottoman past surplanted and the new state would rediscover the Christian elements that were hidden within the Imperial Mosque. By secularizing the museum and allowing archeologists to uncover the hidden past, for the old Christian mosaics had been plastered over by the Ottomans, the State was staying true to its dogma by modernizing in the sense that it was utilizing science, for archeology was a western scientific discipline, to uncover the Hagia Sophia’s hidden past.
Thomas Whittemore (1871-1950), who was the founder of the Byzantine Institute of America, began uncovering the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia in 1931 and due to his successes, continued well after the Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum in 1935. His uncovering of the mosaics was seen as discovering of a masterpiece for the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia was seen, by its Western Audience, as comparable to the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, for the mosaics in question were a masterpiece of Byzantine art. However, prior to the efforts of Whittemore, the mosaics were only a concept through the descriptions of medieval works rather than a reality. His efforts, and those of his wealthy patrons, were only one manifestation of Western interests in the Hagia Sophia as an expression of Byzantine creativity, art work, and monument. And thus, the decision by the state to allow Whittemore to peel off the plaster that covered the only example of mosaic artwork during the period of Justinian, and the subsequent secularization and establishing the Hagia Sophia as a museum was partly fueled by Western enthusiasm and interest. However, the Hagia Sophia, as a public monument, was affected by its commercialization through the “occupation” of itself as it served not only politics as well as tourism and imagination. Nelson demonstrates that as more Europeans and Americans tourists visited the Hagia Sophia, its immediate surroundings began to transform to make the site look more like the one Western pictures had prepared visitors to see. The Hagia Sophia was transformed from a “living building,” that as both a church and a mosque was “vital and socially significant” to a “modern monument,” that was “frozen in some past age, vaguely Byzantine”.
The Hagia Sophia that was once the center of the Byzantine Empire was transformed, outside the realm that its creator envisioned it, into an imperial mosque, as a symbol of Ottoman power and virility, and was once again repurposed into a museum to serve the discourse of the new Turkish Republic. As the new republic began to stabilize and commenced its efforts to write a new nationalistic discourses in an effort to create a unified Turkish identity, the Hagia Sophia, a monument of the past grander, was utilized as both an exponent of a new future (one that is secular, based on reason and science) and to expose and rewrite its ottoman past. As a voiceless monument, the Turkish state was able to empower it as a symbol of a new beginning. As a secular museum, no longer did religion have a hold on the Hagia Sophia other than in history, for it became frozen in time. Therefore it became malleable to serve the Turkish Historical Thesis as a remembrance of the former might of the Ottoman Empire but only as a museum, a monument of the old, that would eventually be shaped and warped by the outside pressures of commercialization and the West.
The Topkapi Sarayi was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856) of their 624-year reign and in 1924, it lawfully went from a monument that represented the Empire to one that represented the Nation. It was only until 1927 that it was open to the public but mostly the palace remained closed until after renovations undertaken between 1939 and 1942. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, which was still used as a mosque for believers, the palace was in disuse, with only elderly serving staff, the surviving eunuchs, and dwarves as its remaining residents. The fact that it was largely abandoned was one of the main reasons that the state felt confident enough to reclaim and transform the palace into a museum soon after the disbanding of the Caliphate. The process of preparing the palace for museumhood provides insight into the goals the new Republic had for the museum because it had to be contextualized and interpreted.
Sedad Hakki Eldem (1908-88), one of the Republic's architects, described the palace as “a place full of valuable treasures piled on top of one another, fabrics sometimes in rags and sometimes echoing their former resplendence” and that “most of these places that I mention have been cleaned, that is destroyed, and the essential cut-stone foundations and arches brought out”. Eldem was told, in 1937, to take photos, especially the crumbling parts of the palace, for a glimpse of the palace “before” the restorations. This act of taking “before” photos is highly significant within the discourses that the State was propagating for it has two implication: (a) it strengthened this idea of the Ottomans as the “other”, and (b) it showed the strength of the new state and how it was them that restored such an important Turkish monument back to its former splendor and redeeming it from being “stuck on during the period of decline." Both points strengthen the notion of the new Turkish nationalist identity, and how the new state has once again brought glory and power back to the Turkish people.
The Topkapi Sarayi also fell victim to selective remembrance; for as stated above, the elimination of the previous past and its association with politics is a part of constructing a useable past. For the Topkapi Sarayi, only certain elements were utilized in order to show a specific past by freezing it in time and thereby creating a relatively anachronistic and static view of the palace. The Tiled Pavilion was one section that received this treatment. It was constructed during the reign of Mehmed II, which utilized an International Timurid style that incorporated Central Asian influenced bricks, Persian façade and tiles, and a Revivalist Gothic elements. The uses of this style were to convey the Universalist quality of Mehmed II’s world empire. However, the museum totally leaves out this narrative and visual history by having the building used as a separate museum of ceramics. Furthermore, many of the later, most humble rooms are closed off, the Treasury Pavilion was not restored to its former past but rather its walls were left whitewashed, and in some parts of the palace, the decorations had simply been stripped such as the case of the kitchen. The meaning behind these decisions are undocumented but work together to portray the Topkapi Sarayi as a monument that once been the site of aristocratic opulence at the expense of the commoners (due to the plainness of the kitchen), and hid the universalist motifs that were utilized by Mehmed II that went counter to the nationalistic Turkish rhetoric’s of the State.
With much of the palace was in a state of decay and it would be logical to assume that the pavilion that was in the best state of preservation would be the first one to be put on display. This was not the case, for the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle of the Prophet Muhammad was not open to the public until 1962, a number of years after the restoration of the rest of the palace had been completed. This, I would argue, was due to the fact that the state wanted to remove the previous Islamic identity that was the cornerstone of the Ottomans and replace it with a secular, Turkish one. Further, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle housed some of the most sacred relics of Islam and could thus be used as a rally for those who preferred an Islamic identity and would also strengthen the recently ousted Caliph and provide material support for his supports. In order to placate them, the pavilion remained closed.Thus, the Topkapi Sarayi is an excellent example of how monuments can be used politically to strengthen the chosen discourse of the holders of power at a given moment.
The two other Imperial residences of the Ottoman Royalty, however, fared differently. The Yildiz and the Dolmabahce Palaces were both of more recent construction, meaning it utilized a more modern, western style of architecture and thus, felt no pressing need to transform them into museums in order to control and own the past. The Yildiz Palace was used as a luxury casino before being converted into a guesthouse for visiting heads of state and royalty. The Dolmabahce Place, on the other hand, was transferred to the government in 1924 and was used by Ataturk as a presidential residence during the summers. This is because both palaces were outwardly western and therefore, could be more easily assimilated into the new
discourse, as oppose to the Topkapi Sarayi, which emanated the architecture of an Islamic and Ottoman nature and thus, needed to be controlled and confined to the pages of history and to be molded into the discourse of the state. The end result is a museum that displayed the opulence and glamour of the old Ottoman state and with added commentaries that displayed the “otherness” of the Ottoman’s, all of which was contrast to the new state and thereby reinforcing a negative perception of the Ottomans.
Ataturk and his Republic recognized that Islam and the Ottomans was deeply tied to the Turkish national identity and therefore, Ataturk pragmatically attempted to recreate Turkish identity by delegitimizing Islamic and Ottoman monuments all the while acknowledging the deep-rooted ties that Islam and Ottomans had with Turkish identity. Thus, rather than attempting to eliminate it, Ataturk, and his state attempted to create an alternative Turkish identity that was divorced from both Islam and its recent Ottoman past and this was done through the Turkish National Thesis. The Turkish National Thesis was an attempt to rewrite history in order to show the greatness, virility, and power that the Turkic civilization (the idea of a Turkic civilization was in itself a creation of this rewriting), which was absent of both an Islamic and Ottoman tie. However, one problem that occurred within Istanbul was the presence of two dominating Ottoman Islamic monuments, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Sarayi. Thus, the state decided to reclaim both monuments by selectively remembering certain aspects of each past in order to strengthen the states new Turkish Nationalist ideology. In terms of the Hagia Sophia, its Christian past was highlighted in order to attacking the old Ottoman past and through its transformation into a museum was subsequently secularized, which reduced its Islamic character. This allowed for the highlighting of the progressiveness and Turkish modernity through the creation of a museum and the use of archeologists to uncover its past. For the Topkapi Sarayi, its process of museumification, allowed the Turkish state to control and write a particular version of history that could then be attached to the monument. Rather than highlighting its rich cultural significant, the state chose to depict the imperial power as an opulent, irrational entity that drove itself to its demise. Thus, by using the vehicle of museums, the Turkish state was able to rewrite history in a certain way that would allow the two monuments to not only fit within the discourse that the state was propagating but strengthen it also.
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