The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey
Esra Ozyurek, Ed
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007. 225p. $24.95.
The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey, edited by Esra Ozyurek, touches on a field which had been largely neglected by scholars of Turkish Studies. The contributors to the volume explore in seven chapters, the ways in which diverse groups in society challenge, reaffirm or transform the official narratives of history, nation, homeland and Republic through different interpretations of the memory of the past. Even though society shares a common understanding for the memory of the past, the perception, interpretation and representation of the past can be radically different. The contributors, coming from different disciplines such as anthropology, comparative literature, and sociology examine the "changing nature of Turkish relationships with the past". They all share the assumption that the imagination and representation of the past help to define and reflect the cultural identities and political positions of groups and individuals in the present.
In her introduction, Esra Ozyurek mentions that "people excavate memories of the past in order to find clues to help them understand or control the present. The multiple and personalized perceptions and interpretations of an imagined past allow contemporary Turkish citizens to create alternative identities for themselves and for their communities" (p. 2).
Indeed, observers have gauged a rising sentiment of nostalgia in recent years. The expressions of this nostalgia are manifold. However, in the context of the Turkish Republic, the "reinterpretation" of public memory is politically charged. Marginalized political movements as the Islamists have contested the present through the redefinition and reinterpretation of the past. At least since the 1990s, the field of public memory has become a political battleground between Islamists and secularists.
After all, it should be remembered that the early republican regime promoted the foundation of the Republic as a restart and con scious break with the discredited past. The memory of the past was to be erased through 'administered forgetting', as Ozyurek names it, alluding to Milan Kundera in "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" (p. 3).
The Turkish Republic was designed to be a modern secular nation-state. The founding fathers of the Republic initiated a rigorous reform program which aimed to disconnect from the Ottoman legacy. The new regime introduced Western style clothing, banned the fez, traditional...