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Turkish Neo-Ottoman memory culture and the problems of copying the past

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gonul Bozoglu, Professor Christopher Whitehead



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a book chapter that has been published in its final definitive form by Routledge, 2018.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This chapter looks at official practices of copying and re-enactment of Ottoman pasts in the civic sphere, illustrating the ways in which governmentality is enmeshed in mimetic and memorial practices. Neo-Ottomanism has been characterized as a nostalgic phenomenon associated particularly (but not exclusively) with the conservative-Islamic political, religious and moral orientations. Official evocations of Ottoman pasts are numerous and constitute not just a celebration of those pasts but a project of selective reversion, effectively recouping, reassembling or copying aspects of the past for the good of the present. We argue that when, in museums, public spectacles and imagery, the Municipality of Istanbul restages the Conquest of Constantinople, it is with a view to providing a model of behaviours and achievement for the present. When costumed actors in the pay of the state re-enact the Ottoman past, it is not ‘merely’ historical representation, but also a proposition about being in the present: about what to remember, in both mnemonic and reconstructive senses (i.e. re-membering), what to value, what example to follow, who to be. Official endeavours to copy the Ottoman past are selective, syncretic and nostalgic exercises that are both romantic and instrumental, as they are imprinted with political will and involve prescriptions of ideal civil subjects and relations. Copying the past can lead to memory contests. The official project of rebuilding the Hallil Paşa ‘Topçu’ Barracks – a nineteenth-century Ottoman building demolished in the 1940s – in the modernist landscape of Taksim Square, was initially thwarted (partly in the 2013 Gezi Protests) because of some communities’ attachments to other place histories (Armenian, Republican, Leftist etc.) and resistance to new neo-Ottoman imprints on the urban fabric. Meanwhile, different groups attack representations of Ottoman history with accusations of inaccuracy. The validity of state museum representations are queried by some who perceive the creep of ideology therein. State actors have attacked the accuracy of popular historical drama TV show Magnificent Century, because it does not align with their version of the (moral, pious and glorious) Ottoman past. The faithfulness of the copy is in question, because the mimetic process is a creative one at a fundamental remove from the past. Where the past is the ‘original’ and remembering in the present is the ‘copy’, social contest arises because the ‘original’ is only ever a matter of apprehension, even if actors confidently claim otherwise – i.e. that the past has non-representational, pre-social existence to which they can lay claim and which can be reproduced without interference. Exploring these dynamics, we address the interrelations between copying, memory, and the politics of making and contesting the present.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bozoglu G, Whitehead C

Editor(s): Brita Brenna, Hans Dam Christensen, Olav Hamran

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Museums as Cultures of Copies: The Crafting of Artefacts and Authenticity

Year: 2018

Print publication date: 20/12/2018

Online publication date: 07/12/2018

Acceptance date: 01/01/2017

Edition: 1

Publisher: Routledge

Place Published: Oxon


DOI: 10.4324/9781351106498

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780367663292