Turkey’s cities have gone through several transformative periods and waves of modernisation in the last two centuries. In an almost dialectical process, the modern experience was shaped by the interplay of destruction of older structures and the construction of new ones, in architectural as well as in societal and discursive terms.2 In this seesaw of destruction and construction, the issue of scale has been central: urban interventions created new spaces and destroyed old ones, but due to limited capital and state weakness, they never resulted in a total transformation of urban structures. Until the early years of the twenty-first century and despite waves of heightened urban reconstruction, cities in Turkey displayed recognisable patterns and forms shaped over long periods of time and accentuated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Urban policies were a reflection of the economic and political structures of the day, while the resulting cityscapes were an amalgam of the many historical and architectural layers they were built on. Like most cities in empires, Ottoman cities were palimpsests written and rewritten by many generations of authors. These urban, spatial, and social palimpsests have survived almost two centuries of enforced and often ideologically charged attempts at modernisation, including episodes of forced uprooting, continuous destruction, genocide, and the targeting of the heritage of non-Muslim and sometimes even of Muslim communities. Despite the rapid transformations engendered by these policies and despite the cumulative destruction of subaltern lifeworlds, a tradition of Ottoman and Turkish urbanity and sociability remained to the extent that in the 1990s Juan Goytisolo could still speak of Istanbul in terms of a “Palimpsest City”, where “new arrivals stand and listen to a polyglot text, babel of languages, language of the stones, tracing the unwritten history of the city founded twenty-seven centuries ago, according to the promptings of an oracle” (Goytisolo, 2003: 72). In this chapter, I argue that these complex and delicate palimpsests and the nested sociabilities they come with are being eradicated, in a final grandiose stand of capital gone out of control and political power destroying the foundations of the Turkish state. I try to show this by tracing the emergence of what I term the “populist urban growth machine” and its evolution into a Leviathan that eventually devours everything, including itself. I also contextualise the effacement of difference and the destruction of urban heterogeneity in the context of debates on urbicide and larger trends of neo-liberal urban policies in the region and beyond, concluding with the question whether, despite effacement and commodification, parts of the palimpsests can somehow survive and be enriched under the conditions of neo-liberalism3 and authoritarian power arrangements, or in short, under authoritarian neo-liberalism (Tansel, 2017). After establishing the historical context of cities in the late Ottoman Empire and Turkey, I approach this question by highlighting case studies, which illustrate broadly two differential paths of urban policies under the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi): (1) a more recognisably neo-liberal path of hyper-development in Western Turkey and (2) a “darker side of neoliberalism” (Göçek, 2017: 15) in the Kurdish-populated southeast provinces. Tracing hyper-development in the West, I discuss four cases of urban transformation, examining the reconstruction of the Istanbul district of Tarlabaı, the reimagination in the historical centre of Ankara, and the securitisation of the urban ensembles of Taksim Square and Gezi Park. I then discuss the urban transformation project of Fikirtepe and examples of escalations in scale and scope, to gain a sense of the emerging urban fabrics of modern Turkey. Finally, I turn to the attempt to create alternative forms for organising society and cities in the Kurdish provinces in the 2010s and the subsequent destruction of Kurdish cities in a war that echoes earlier instances of destruction and genocide.

Erasing Palimpsest City

Oktem, Kerem Halil-Latif
2020-01-01

Abstract

Turkey’s cities have gone through several transformative periods and waves of modernisation in the last two centuries. In an almost dialectical process, the modern experience was shaped by the interplay of destruction of older structures and the construction of new ones, in architectural as well as in societal and discursive terms.2 In this seesaw of destruction and construction, the issue of scale has been central: urban interventions created new spaces and destroyed old ones, but due to limited capital and state weakness, they never resulted in a total transformation of urban structures. Until the early years of the twenty-first century and despite waves of heightened urban reconstruction, cities in Turkey displayed recognisable patterns and forms shaped over long periods of time and accentuated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Urban policies were a reflection of the economic and political structures of the day, while the resulting cityscapes were an amalgam of the many historical and architectural layers they were built on. Like most cities in empires, Ottoman cities were palimpsests written and rewritten by many generations of authors. These urban, spatial, and social palimpsests have survived almost two centuries of enforced and often ideologically charged attempts at modernisation, including episodes of forced uprooting, continuous destruction, genocide, and the targeting of the heritage of non-Muslim and sometimes even of Muslim communities. Despite the rapid transformations engendered by these policies and despite the cumulative destruction of subaltern lifeworlds, a tradition of Ottoman and Turkish urbanity and sociability remained to the extent that in the 1990s Juan Goytisolo could still speak of Istanbul in terms of a “Palimpsest City”, where “new arrivals stand and listen to a polyglot text, babel of languages, language of the stones, tracing the unwritten history of the city founded twenty-seven centuries ago, according to the promptings of an oracle” (Goytisolo, 2003: 72). In this chapter, I argue that these complex and delicate palimpsests and the nested sociabilities they come with are being eradicated, in a final grandiose stand of capital gone out of control and political power destroying the foundations of the Turkish state. I try to show this by tracing the emergence of what I term the “populist urban growth machine” and its evolution into a Leviathan that eventually devours everything, including itself. I also contextualise the effacement of difference and the destruction of urban heterogeneity in the context of debates on urbicide and larger trends of neo-liberal urban policies in the region and beyond, concluding with the question whether, despite effacement and commodification, parts of the palimpsests can somehow survive and be enriched under the conditions of neo-liberalism3 and authoritarian power arrangements, or in short, under authoritarian neo-liberalism (Tansel, 2017). After establishing the historical context of cities in the late Ottoman Empire and Turkey, I approach this question by highlighting case studies, which illustrate broadly two differential paths of urban policies under the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi): (1) a more recognisably neo-liberal path of hyper-development in Western Turkey and (2) a “darker side of neoliberalism” (Göçek, 2017: 15) in the Kurdish-populated southeast provinces. Tracing hyper-development in the West, I discuss four cases of urban transformation, examining the reconstruction of the Istanbul district of Tarlabaı, the reimagination in the historical centre of Ankara, and the securitisation of the urban ensembles of Taksim Square and Gezi Park. I then discuss the urban transformation project of Fikirtepe and examples of escalations in scale and scope, to gain a sense of the emerging urban fabrics of modern Turkey. Finally, I turn to the attempt to create alternative forms for organising society and cities in the Kurdish provinces in the 2010s and the subsequent destruction of Kurdish cities in a war that echoes earlier instances of destruction and genocide.
2020
Routledge Handbook on Middle East Cities
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/3742277
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