National Identity, Power and Architectural Culture: Three Cases in Istanbul

By Ozlem Caglar-Tombus

Throughout the Republican period (1923-today), the question of identity, as part of the nation-building process has revolved around dualities such as East-West, religious-secular, national-universal and so forth. There has been a rich symbolism that developed around the polarity of Ankara (the capital city) and Istanbul. Ankara has become the symbol of the new official culture formed by the Republic, whereas Istanbul has always symbolized the cosmopolitan Ottoman. This thesis takes Istanbul as a case study, because the city depended on and benefited from its place as a major crossroads of trans-regional economic and cultural relations. The city, at different periods and sometimes simultaneously, became the symbol of both regression and progress, (re)defining national identity while adapting worldwide geopolitical and economic changes. It has been a site where new geographical and cultural narratives are constantly being invented and tested.

This research investigates three major social, political, economical and cultural turning points, which have had major influence on the architecture and urbanism in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. The first is between 1920 and 1950 and it is the formative period of nation building project. The second period is mostly analyzed with the influence of post Second World War politics and a shift to a democratic system that marks the beginning of a more liberal internationalist cultural scene. The third period, starting from 1980’s, marks the unfolding of a post-modern Turkey with the influence of neoliberal economic policies effective at the time. And lastly the fourth period is the process started with multicultural politics of EU and the rise of Islam in Turkey. These turning points also changed power relations and the dominance of one city on the other. Through the analysis of key historic moments and major urban interventions with key projects, this thesis aims to address broader questions. In what ways can architecture be used by political entities as a part of nation building and identity formation? How do worldwide economic and political changes affect this process, and how local/national actors themselves turn out to be forces that initiate and help this process?