Katakutu Memory Walks

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. They thought 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. 941 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.

Scope and Purpose

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.

Memory places that are included in the walk route are related to human rights violations and/or struggles against these violations that happened in the late Ottoman period and the beginning of the Republican era. The routes are made up of places that are important for and highly illustrative of systematic discrimination and rights violations against minorities, women, LGBT individuals and dissident groups. As they try to make visible the suppressed stories of places and their past guests, they also pay attention to making connections between different stories. For example, during one of the walks that had gender as its theme, the story of transgender individuals, who were lynched and displaced at the end of the 90s, is recounted on Ülker Street with the help of the story of the street. Another stop of the walk is the Aras Publishing House where participants hear the story of Zabel Yaseyan who focused on women’s rights and socialist struggle in her articles. The writer’s story is also a means to talk about genocide, tehcir law, exiles or the fate of Armenian intellectuals who survived the genocide. In front of the closed building of the Taksim Research and Training Hospital, stories of women, who were forced to become mothers or underwent unsafe abortions because of the abortion ban, are recounted.

Capacity-building activities held before these walks include seminars given by specialists, local history workshops, one-on-one support groups and meetings with human rights organizations. In the second step of the program, young participants work to collect facts, testimonies, visual materials and statistical data on the struggles of groups whose rights were violated, on survivors’ struggles for truth that would also help them discover cultural diversity that has been eradicated. All of these research materials are brought together in folders that are titled Identity Cards of the Place. These young people become the young narrators of memory walks at the end of these training sessions.  Finally, in sessions held at the beginning and end of the walks, participants engage in discussions on grave violations of human rights, how to remember injustices and how to prevent them from happen again.


One of the impacts of the Memory Walks can be observed on young volunteers who participate in these events. Young volunteers are introduced to memory studies, research and share Istanbul’s silenced stories and learn about Turkey’s recent past. They also learn about/work on dealing with the past in Turkey and around the world, in addition to academicians and NGOs who focus on collective memory. Moreover, thanks to different workshops and training sessions, they get acquainted with non-formal education, acquire presentation skills, improve their academic research skills, learn about how to convey information to and teach others, and make new friends.

Memory Journey gives inspiration to other programs in different universities. In 2016, Memory Walks were included in the syllabus of the course “Writing, Truth, Falsification” offered at the University of Sydney. Okan University offered the Yeldeğirmeni Memory Walks program as part of the “Minority Rights” course to the students of the International Relations Program. In 2017, the Sulukule Volunteers’ Association joined the Memory Journey together with children and created a new route titled Sulukule-Karagümrük Exploration Journey. Lastly, Istanbul Bilgi University, together with students of the Media and Communications Department prepared the Cağaloğlu Memory Walk.



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.