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Heritage production in Turkey. Actors, issues, and scales

  • 1 For discussion of the multiple forms of contemporary heritage production, see the paper given by Je (...)

Present-day Turkey is home to a proliferation in heritage production – with works of local history, museums, urban initiatives, etc.1 -bringing together a large number of actors, many different identity demands, and a variety of scales (ranging from the local and national up to the international – with the involvement of international organisations and the dissemination of standards and instruments, as well as the development of tourism and the accompanying invention of heritage). This special issue of the EJTS will seek to study the dynamics that may be discerned within this heritagization, the actors involved, and the issues at stake.

More specifically this special issue will seek to explore the theme of heritage in Turkey by focusing on the relationship between heritage and nation-building. This issue will be addressed by analysing heritage as process and as social construct, and by studying the concept of heritage held by the various actors involved, including professionals and non-specialists.

  • 2 For an overview of the various prevalent approaches within heritage research, see the works by Domi (...)

Whilst these questions are by now fairly standard within the field of heritage studies, particularly in French,2 they have hitherto been insufficiently examined with regard to Turkey. Research into built and urban heritage has to date been dominated by architects and historians of architecture (Pérouse 2011), and tends to privilege the study of heritage objects. However work in the human and social sciences is now inaugurating a new approach to heritage in terms of processes, focusing on the mechanisms by which heritage is produced, the issues at stake, the actors involved, and the various scales in play. This is the perspective this special issue wishes to explore. Reference may be made in particular to work by Ayfer Bartu (1999, 2001) and Ayşe Öncü (2007, 2010) into reinterpreting Ottoman heritage in the period of globalisation; by Kerem Öktem (2003) and Arzu Öztürkmen (1994, 1998, 2002) into how interpretations of, respectively, local geography and the past, or popular culture can contribute to the process of nation-building. Mention should also be made of the work on the heritagization of Istanbul and the differing conceptions of heritage there (Pérouse 2003; Dorso 2003, 2006; Girard 2010); on cultural policy (Karaca 2009), on multiple historical memories (Anastassiadou and Dumont 2003), and on ‘alternative’ heritage constructs (Scalbert Yücel 2009), as well as on popular heritagization (Fliche 2007).

But perhaps the prevalence of studies privileging the object over the process is in itself revelatory of the heritage temporalities and aporias specific to Turkey. Jean-François Pérouse has pointed out that the term ‘heritage’ has no equivalent in Turkish, and that there is a certain degree of correspondence between variations in vocabulary and fluctuations in the policies (Pérouse 2011). Given this, the recent emergence within political discourse of the expression for cultural heritage (kültürel miras or kültür mirası) and its increasingly widespread use (Pérouse 2004), together with the development of heritage as a public policy category (Girard, Scalbert-Yücel, forthcoming), would appear to be indicative of a revival/renewal, or perhaps rather a proliferation of heritage and its alignment with global dynamics.

Examining heritage production via the optic of nation-building would appear to be a promising approach, not least because the AKP 2011 general election campaign was based on the theme of the ‘mosaic’ (Pérouse 2011), traces of neo-Ottomanism may be seen to be at work in many different places, and there is a ‘regime of tolerance (surveillance) [...] vis-à-vis alternative heritage productions by Kurdish municipalities’ (ibid.).

Heritage production may be viewed via the prism of nation-building at several different levels:

Nation-building and economic issues – heritage as a resource

Heritage – which can be created from scratch (something it would be interesting to study) – can provide the ruling party with a means of binding the national community together. But against a backdrop of economic liberalisation and the development of tourism, identity issues can overlap with economic issues.

Nation-building and exogenous actors

Furthermore, heritage production is also a way of adopting a position in the face of globalisation (take for instance pronouncements by ISMEK, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality art and vocational training courses), and of reacting to external forces exerting a double pull of ‘attraction and repulsion’. This means that studies of heritage production mechanisms need to take into account not only the transfer of instruments, but also the dissonances that can exist from one territory to the next in the way local authorities relate to international organisations (to caricature the situation in a somewhat reductionist manner, whilst in Istanbul action by UNESCO may be seen as an intrusion into local affairs, in the South East international bodies are central to the Southeastern Anatolia Development Project – GAP - and the ‘driving force’ behind heritage policy).

The local and the national

Hence the need to examine the situation at different scales. Who are the heritage actors at the local scale? How do they produce heritage and to what purpose? Is there any overlap with the approach adopted at the national level? How is heritage interpreted? Do the same norms and practices apply? Are there any detectable dissonances between the various historical accounts conveyed by heritage? At a finer scale, how do the heritage conceptions of the various actors involved (experts, local and national institutions, amateurs, non-specialists, public and private actors, etc.) influence each other, and what are the areas of convergence, opposition, and overlap?

Multiple versions of nation-building

Studying the dynamics at work within heritagization needs to be based on an analysis of the various heritage actors present, the specific historicity of each of the numerous heritage actions, and differing conceptions of what heritage is. The study of alternative heritage productions carried out by Kurdish municipalities reveals how heritage interventions can enter into competition and become enmeshed with each other, leading to the adoption of rival approaches, and that heritagization can fulfil different purposes, thereby revealing the existence of multiple processes of identity construction (cf. Girard, Scalbert-Yücel, forthcoming).

This special issue on Turkey will adopt a comparative approach and is interested in articles on the following themes:

  • National and local policy for heritage production

  • Institutions, norms, and instruments with regard to the scale and level of intervention

  • Heritage actors: public-private partnerships, institutional actors, and non-specialists, heritage mediators and go-betweens

  • Ottoman heritage and how it is produced and presented both in Turkey and in the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire

  • ‘Alternative heritage’, identity demands and multiple historical memories, and the issue of minorities and cultural diversity in heritage production.

Important dates

  • Submission of abstracts (maximum one page): 1st November 2013

  • Submission of papers: 1st February 2014

  • Expected publication time: Fall 2014


Please direct any question about the special issue to Muriel Girard:
<muriel (dot) girard (at) marseille (dot) archi (dot) fr>
<girard_muriel (at) hotmail (dot) com>

Notice to contributors:


Anastassiadou, Méropi ; Dumont, Paul (2003) Une mémoire pour la ville : la communauté grecque d’Istanbul en 2003, Les dossiers de l’IFEA, série : ‘La Turquie d’aujourd’hui’, no 16.

Bartu, Ayfer (2001) ‘Rethinking Heritage Politics in a global context: a view from Istanbul’, in Alsayyad, Nezar (ed.), Hybrid Urbanism, On the Identity Discourse and the Built Environment, Londres, Praeger, pp. 131-155.

Bartu, Ayfer (1999) ‘Who Owns the Old Quarters? Rewriting Histories in a Global Era’, in Keyder, Çağlar (ed.), Istanbul. Between the Global and the Local. Lanham, Md, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, pp. 31-44.

Dorso, Franck (2006) ‘La muraille ignorée ou le paradoxe de l’alliance tourisme-patrimoine’, Téoros 25 (2): 40-46.

Dorso, Franck (2003) ‘Un espace indécis au coeur d’Istanbul. La muraille de Théodose II en 2011’, Les dossiers de l’IFEA, série ‘Patrimoines au présent’, no. 1.

Fliche, Benoît (2007), Odyssées turques : les migrations d’un village anatolien, Paris, CNRS.

Heinich, Nathalie (2009) La fabrique du patrimoine. De la cathédrale à la petite cuillère, Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.

Girard, Muriel (2010) ‘Recompositions du monde artisanal et mutations urbaines au regard des mises en patrimoine et en tourisme au Maghreb et au Moyen-Orient (Fès, Istanbul, Alep)’, thèse de doctorat de sociologie, Université de Tours.

Girard, Muriel; Scalbert-Yücel, Clémence (à paraître) ‘Le patrimoine comme catégorie d’action publique dans la région du Sud-est anatolien’, in Aymes, Marc; Gourisse, Benjamin; Massicard, Elise (eds), L’Art de l’État. Arrangements de l’action publique en Turquie, de la fin de l’Empire ottoman à nos jours, Paris, Karthala.

Karaca, Banu (2009) Governance of or through culture? Cultural policy and the politics of culture in Europe, in Focaal - Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 55: 27-40.

Öktem, Kerem (2003) ‘Creating the Turk’s Homeland: Modernization, Nationalism and Geography in Southeast Turkey in the late19th and 20th Centuries’, Paper for the Socrates Kokkalis Graduate Workshop 2003, The City: Urban Culture, Architecture and Society.

Öncü, Ayşe (2010) ‘Narratives of Istanbul’s Ottoman Heritage’, in Diamandouros, Nikiforos; Dragonas, Thalia; Keyder, Çağlar (eds), Spatial Conceptions of the Nation: Modernizing Geographies in Greece and Turkey, Londres / New York, I.B. Tauris Publishers, pp. 205-228.

Öncü, Ayşe (2007) ‘The Politics of Istanbul’s Ottoman Heritage in the Era of Globalism. Refractions through the Prism of a Theme Park’, in Drieskens, Barbara; Mermier, Franck; Wimmen, Heiko (eds), Cities of the south: Citizenship and exclusion in the 21st century, Londres, Saqi / Heinrich Böll Fondation, Institut français du Proche-Orient, pp. 233-264.

Öztürkmen, Arzu (2002) ‘I dance folklore’, in Kandiyoti, Deniz; Saktanber, Ayşe (eds.), Fragments of Culture: The Everyday Life of Turkey, Londres / New York, I.B. Tauris, pp. 128-146.

Öztürkmen, Arzu (1998) Türkiye’de Folklor ve Milliyetçilik, Istanbul, İletişim Yayınları.

Öztürkmen, Arzu (1994) ‘The role of people’s houses in the making of national culture in Turkey’, New Perspectives on Turkey 11: 159-181.

Pérouse, Jean-François (2011) ‘Du régime unique national de production patrimoniale au régime néo-libéral, conservateur et partiellement “pluriel”: la Turquie à l’épreuve de la transition patrimoniale’, papier présenté lors de l’atelier ‘La gouvernance dans les politiques et pratiques patrimoniales’, dans le cadre du forum ‘Acteurs et conflits de mémoire autour du patrimoine urbain’, juin 2011, MSH-Paris Nord (voir

Pérouse, Jean-François (2004), La Turquie en marche, Paris, La Martinière.

Pérouse, Jean-François (2003) ‘La question du patrimoine à Istanbul : le cas de la muraille terrestre’, in Rives nord-méditerranéennes, 16 : 27-44.

Scalbert-Yücel, Clémence (2009) The Invention of a Tradition: Diyarbakır Dengbêj Project’, The European Journal of Turkish Studies, 10. URL:

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1 For discussion of the multiple forms of contemporary heritage production, see the paper given by Jean-François Pérouse (2011).

2 For an overview of the various prevalent approaches within heritage research, see the works by Dominique Poulot as well as Nathalie Heinich (2009).

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