Exhibiting “Turkishness” at a time of flux in Turkey: an ethnography of the state
Karahasan, Canan Nese
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This thesis investigates the contested processes of displaying “Turkishness” in competing state museums in Turkey at a time when over the last decade secularist- Kemalist state power has been overturned under neo-Islamist Justice and Development Party government. It poses the question: how are the oppositionary - namely secular Republican and Islamic Ottoman - pasts of “Turkishness” remembered, forgotten, and negotiated in Anıtkabir, Atatürk’s mausoleum, and Topkapı Palace Museum, the imperial house at a time of flux in Turkey? Anıtkabir, under the command of the Turkish Armed Forces, the guardian of secularism, and Topkapı Palace, linked to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, an arm of the government, are more than pedagogical warehouses of the state, displaying contending pasts. They are state institutions, endowed with diverse power sources in exhibiting the binaries of “Turkishness” polarised between West-modern-secular and East-backward-Islam. Through an ethnography of these agencies of the state, this research traces the negotiation processes of exhibiting the competing pasts of “Turkishness”. The focus of this study is twofold. First, it explores how different bureaucratic practices in Anıtkabir and Topkapı Palace museums act as power mechanisms among museum staff and vis-à-vis visitors. Second, it looks at the ensuing representations of “Turkishness”. Competing traditions and national days pertaining to Islamic Ottoman and secular Republican histories are re-invented through museum events, which fall beyond the bureaucracy of exhibition-making. However, formal / informal processes of exhibition-making in both museums reveal that binaries of “Turkishness” are challenged and deliberated through contested exhibitionary practices. In Topkapı Palace Museum, a Westernised-modernised image of imperial life is portrayed, while Anıtkabir simultaneously re-sacralises and humanises Atatürk’s cult. Therefore, this study argues that binaries of “Turkishness” are not irreconcilable; rather they are reversed, negotiated, and transformed in the quest for state power in the everyday practices of these museum bureaucracies.