Memorialize Turkey highlights examples of memorialization related to the many groups and individuals who have suffered harm or rights violations over the past 100 years in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. The project started in 2013 as a collaboration between the World Policy Institute in New York, the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Hafıza Merkezi in Istanbul. The initial project idea was suggested by Belinda Cooper, World Policy Institute, after attending Hafıza Merkezi’s workshop on Memorialization in December 2011, İstanbul. The aim was to compile efforts of memorialization led by different actors that contribute to the democratization of the memory space in Turkey, a country dominated by an exclusive, nationalist and one-dimensional conventional national memory. During a follow-up workshop in Mardin in February 2013, we continued to discuss memorialization and the ways in which it can contribute to human rights activism and the struggle for democracy. We brought together participants from various political initiatives, representing different ethnic and religious identities and actively involved in memorialization efforts. We also invited experts on memorialization from Germany, Israel, and Bosnia, three countries representing different experiences of dealing with the past and contested histories.
This website was designed as a result of these workshops. In its first version started in 2013, it provided information on 26 projects throughout Turkey, seeking to address historical atrocities that have been denied, repressed, or misinterpreted. These initiatives were mostly physical memorial projects, using rather typical forms of memorialization, such as statues, temples, parks, monuments and former prisons. In the following years, Hafıza Merkezi started to engage with new technologies and creative methods to make memorialization efforts more appealing and accessible for younger generations. We organized public panels on the role of new media, such as gaming and virtual reality for telling stories and disseminating alternative narratives on gross human rights violations and dealing with the past. Also, we invested on improving the creative storytelling capacities of human rights NGOs, building working collaborations between them and agents of creative disciplines. As we became more engaged with novel techniques and methods of truth telling during 2018 and 2019, our focus on memorialization became broader. In order to highlight the changing landscape in memory initiatives, we decided to compile a new selection of 12 cases. Accordingly, the website now covers 37 projects, which can be filtered according to their characteristics and ownership.
The present version of the site is the product of the redesigning process which started in 2022. During this process, which aimed to make the site more attractive and accessible, all the contents were revised. The new version of the site adopts a more inclusive and participatory approach. We added new visual materials to the available contents, included sources about the memory field in the library and started to enrich the project descriptions with interviews with stakeholders and short essays. These additions aim to better document the different dimensions of the memorialization work by opening a space to the experiences and thoughts of different individuals and groups, such as victims and survivors, civil society actors, artists or designers. We hope that this polyphonic structure will contribute to the critical approaches and debates about the memory field in Turkey and other countries.
We will continue to develop the site along three main axes: continuing to redesign the site the make it more attractive for the wider public and accessible for disabled persons; adding new interviews, essays and sources to add a critical dimension to the existing contents and create a more polyphonic narrative; continuing research and fieldwork to add new memorialization projects.
In the struggle for truth, justice and memory, it is essential to include wider segments of society to learn from the past mistakes, in order to promote the motto never again. By presenting a critical perspective on various memorialization projects, we hope to contribute to an important discussion on how memorials can contribute to creating spaces of curiosity, understanding and reflection around human rights and past atrocities.
Turkey's past includes many forms of state violence, which are little accounted for in the one-sided and rigid conventional national memory. Alternative memory narratives have been brutally repressed, denied or manipulated in the long history of memory conflicts. This rigid picture, however, began to change at the beginning of the 2000s and a new memory space opened up. This contentious political, cultural and symbolic space emerged when the discourse of democratization and accession to the European Union was high on the official agenda. One can even talk about a memory boost in the context of the post 2000’s Turkey. Different groups, initiatives and platforms contested the dominant narratives of memory and addressed the wide repertoire of state violence in Turkey. Several narratives of the past began to be disseminated in the public sphere by different competing political and cultural groups such as Muslim and conservative groups and platforms, feminist initiatives and women groups, Kurds mobilized in the hinterland of the Kurdish political movement, radical leftists, nationalist and secular initiatives, Jew and Christian communities and divers LGBTIQ movement, which altogether formed contentious fragments of memory.
It would be wrong, however, to limit the memory boost to the initiatives which started in the 2000s. Various political movements had already established several memory initiatives in relation with their political commitment and struggle by the end of the 1980s, paving the ground for an alternative memory scene where there were dealing with the past as political actors. These groups, mostly related to different political organizations such as the Kurdish political movement or feminist organizations, continued their struggle in the new context of the memory boost and diversified the alternative memory scene in Turkey.
The memory boost came under overwhelming pressure after the radical change of the political climate in Turkey. Following the blatant demise of the peace process in the context of the Kurdish conflict in 2015 and the failed coup attempt in 2016, the crackdown on freedoms and democracy dramatically narrowed the public space opened up in relation with alternative memorialization works, led by public institutions, civil society organizations or political initiatives. In Kurdish cities, memorials and parks built in times of peace were destroyed and renamed. Yet, despite repression, other forms of alternative memorialization and truth telling efforts such as the Saturday Mothers/Persons or more recent memory initiatives such as the memory walks organized by civil society organizations continue. In the recent years, Turkey’s memory scene also witnessed the rise of new independent memory initiatives, mostly active in digital spaces and more innovative and participatory in their approaches.
This website covers 37 cases of memorialization initiatives. They are tagged according to their owners and their format. Accordingly, we identified 4 types of project owners: Central Government, Local Government, Non-Governmental Organization and Civil and Political Initiatives. Also, we defined 7 types of medium or form regarding the cases: Memory Walks, Digital Studies, Museums and Exhibitions, Monuments and Parks, Cultural Heritage, Commemorations, Books and Films.
This website neither claims to exclusively cover all the memorialization efforts, nor argues to include all different components of the memory scene in Turkey. Our aim is, rather, to provide a selected anthology of different memorialization efforts, which is open to contribution and collaboration. Memorialization is a primary means of presenting narratives of difficult histories. Memorials or public acts of remembering may take various forms: they may be statues, parks, or museums, or less permanent commemorations such as demonstrations, theatrical productions, traveling exhibitions. They may incorporate educational activities, shared learning and communication. They may take shape in digital spaces like digital memorials, online versions of books, city tours, as well as collaborative portals like Facebook. In this selection, our aim is to give an insight into a broad scope of methods and approaches to the memorialization efforts.
Manipulated by political forces, memorials may emphasize grievances or glorify conflict, and thus encourage renewed hostility. But inclusive commemorations may also serve a more constructive purpose by educating new generations, promoting reflection, healing, inclusion and reconciliation, and even serving as atonement. This website focuses on this aspect of memorialization, which contributes to peace and democratization.
Most of the selected cases highlight efforts that help to reinforce the idea of human rights, educate wider audiences about historical events that have been denied or suppressed, and ultimately promote understanding and reconciliation among the many ethnic, political and religious groups that constitute Turkey’s society.
We included the participants of our Memory and Youth project in the revision process which started in 2022. The participants in the project conducted interviews with stakeholders of various memorialization works, thus contributing to updating the contents and adopt a polyphonic and critical approach. Participants also enriched the site by drafting essays and adding visual material, based on literature review, archive work and fieldwork.
We will continue to enrich the new site with the contributions and feedback of our young participants. At the same time, we plan to add new memorialization works to the existing contents. Our aim is to transform the site in a platform of discussion about sites of memory, their functions and impact, in Turkey and beyond. We hus hope to contribute to genuine debates and interactions around the memory field.
To enrich and diversify the Memorialize Turkey website and to help us follow developments in the memory field, we will welcome your contributions. Please write to email@example.com to share with us your suggestions for correction and additions, as well as your comments. Your contributions will be submitted to an editorial board, so please allow some time for reply and possible publication.
At the first phase of project during 2013, the initial projects were selected by Belinda Cooper, Meltem Aslan and Murat Çelikkan. Harun Ercan conducted the research and wrote the cases for these initial entries. In 2019, Gülistan Zeren conducted the research for the selection of the 12 new cases, Asmin Adar Buhan helped update the initial project contents and Kerem Çiftçioğlu supervised the process. The first design of the website was done by Derin Korman. Based on the content update in 2019, the revised design was done by Ali Seçkin Karayol. Kemal Abatan Taylan and Hafıza Merkezi team revised the articles in 2022 and Ayşe Günaysu edited the Turkish states. Semra Somersan, Ayla Jean Yackley and Peter Klempner did the English translation and editing. The website redesign was completed in the same year by Meriç Funda (neopublico) . The technical maintenance and updates of the website are handled by Koray Löker.
The project is grateful to the Fetzer Institute, the World Policy Institute, and Robert Bosch Stiftung for their support. Fetzer Institute provided funding for both the workshop in 2011 and the initial version of the website. The World Policy Institute provided administrative support in 2013. Robert Bosch Stiftung provided support for the update and revisions in 2019. We would also like to thank the Sabancı Museum for hosting the Mardin workshop in 2013, Mesut Alp for his support during the workshop and Nar Photos for the photographs. The Chrest Foundation supported the website design update and text revisions in 2022-23.