Karakutu Memory Walks

İstanbul, 2014

Karakutu Association was set up in January 2014 as a dream of Emrah Gürsel and Özlem Yalçınkaya, who both had extensive previous civil society experience. What brought them together was the belief that a more democratic society required a process of individual freedom and the development of a critical eye towards the past. Emrah Gürsel states that Karakutu “is an organization that was founded on the idea that the state and society cannot become democratic because of Turkey’s lack of concern for the main reasons behind the violence and injustices that have been going on for the last one hundred years.” With these in mind, the two embarked on building methods that could help people who use the same public spaces but come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, to come together, start a dialogue and better know each other. Their first objective was to find a practical way of bringing together the two important fields of dealing with the past and youth studies. In the meantime, they studied many different practices both in Turkey and abroad, and carried out study visits. Having considered many options, the idea that excited them the most and pushed them to take action was “Memory Walks.” After having nurtured the idea for a while, they began the formalities for setting up the association. While they were thinking about the name, they agreed that the metaphor which best translates the idea of what they want to do was “black box[1]”.  Of course, they were not alone in this journey, encouraged by a lot of friendship, support and contribution from civil society and academy.

Following the preparatory stage of the project, the first memory walks were held in Beyoğlu and Şişli. Today, the Memory Walks route has expanded to include Beşiktaş, Cağaloğlu, Yeldeğirmeni, Sultanahmet, and Balat along with Beyoğlu and Şişli. Moreover, memory walks for adults are being held since 2018. Since February 2015, a total of 64 Memory Walks have been organized. 961 young people and adults participated in these walks. 236 young people participated as narrators.


[1] Black box, or flight record, is an electronic recording device placed in an aircraft for the purpose of facilitating the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents.






Memory Walks

A Memory Walk is designed as “a commemoration event in which young people are ‘explorers’, instead of being ‘students’ or ‘tourists’, thanks to the unorthodox methods that are employed.” The walks aim to “make young people question the reasons behind historical injustices, evaluate their consequences with a critical eye to develop an awareness to say ‘never again’ and increase their capacity to create peaceful solutions to conflicts.”

The Memory Walks methodology developed by Karakutu Association has a unique place in memory studies for it both blends memory and youth studies, and is extremely youth friendly. The primary objective of the methodology is to render the difficult topics of the past easier to discuss within young people through a youth friendly method, allowing them to learn and discuss through experience, together with their peers, outside of a classical seminar format. They used the “treasure hunt” method used in many different fields outside politics to accommodate the themes of memory and dealing with the past.

Throughout the Memory Walks, the young people who make the ignored historical narratives heard are trying to make visible the suppressed stories of the places and the past guests of these places, which are ignored today, while enabling different stories to connect with each other.

In 2018, Memory Walks were organized with 165 participants and 42 narrators in 11 walks, 3 on the Cağaloğlu route, 1 on the Historic Peninsula route, and 3 on the Beyoğlu route, all with gender and LGBTI+ themes. In 2019, 22 Memory Walks, 4 for adults and 2 for youth on the Beyoğlu route, 1 for adults and 2 for youth on the Cağaloğlu route, 2 for adults and 5 for youth on the Şişli route, 1 for adults on the Yeldeğirmeni route, 1 for adults and 2 for youth on the Beşiktaş route, 2 for adults, 2 for youth and 2 for institutional co-workers, were organized with 267 participants and 85 narrators. In 2020, 13 Memory Walks, 5 on the Şişli route, 1 gender-oriented walk on the Sultanahmet route, 4 on the Beyoğlu route, 3 on the Cağaloğlu route, were organized with 124 participants and 16 narrators.

Young volunteers participating in Memory Walks step into the field of memory studies, research and share the silenced stories of Istanbul. They get to know and learn about Turkey's recent history, academics and civil society organizations working in the field of confronting the past and social memory in Turkey and around the world. In addition, through different workshops and trainings, they get acquainted with non-formal education methods, acquire presentation skills, develop academic work and research skills, learn to transfer/teach what they have learned to others and make new friends.

The field of memory has attracted a great deal of attention in Turkey in the last 20 years, as it has in the world. The fact that Turkey has built a 'habitus of denial', as Talin Suciyan calls it, regarding the grave human rights violations of its past leads to an accumulation of issues that need to be confronted and addressed. Starting from the genocide, violations against minorities, violations against Kurds, violations before the coup periods, violations caused by the coups create a wide field of study in terms of recalling and revitalizing different memories. In this context, memory walks, a field of memory studies, are also practiced by different organizations as oral history studies, urban history studies or studies on discrimination and human rights violations. One of them, Memory Walks, has inspired programs at other universities. In 2016, the University of Sydney included the Journey of Memory project in the curriculum of the course "Writing, Truth, Falsification". In 2016, Okan University implemented the Yeldeğirmeni Memory Walk program with the students of the Department of International Relations as part of the "Minority Rights" course. In 2017, Sulukule Volunteers Association participated in the Journey of Memory with children and created a new route called Sulukule-Karagümrük Discovery Journey. Finally, Istanbul Bilgi University organized the Cağaloğlu Memory Walk with students from Department of Media and Communication.

Since Memory Walks is an open-air event held with a group of people on the busiest districts of Istanbul, it can be negatively affected by the political atmosphere of the country. Karakutu has never had to cancel any of these events because of such risks but continued these with route changes.

For the Memory Walks, which have been held since 2015, the most difficult period for the association was the state of emergency period. In this period, young narrators and participants had considerable difficulty talking together about silenced histories while standing next to these places. The narrators have faced similar problems during the LGBTI+ themed Memory Walk held for the Pride Week.