Personifying History and Reconsidering Ruptures in Contemporary Turkey

By Asli Z. Igsiz
Submitted to Session P2132 (Former Ottomans and Contemporary Communities: Explorations in Reconciliation, Part I, 2009 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Cultural Studies;
Over the last two decades, the relationship between individuals and history has been going through a reconfiguration in Turkey's public domain: on the one hand, an increasing personalization of geography through familial attributes and memories became an anchor for self-identification in contemporary Turkey, traceable through family history and personal narratives in the public domain. Numerous documentary genres (e.g.,documentary novels and films, memoirs, or family histories) have circulated publicly, inviting their audiences to engage their stories not only as “eyewitness accounts” to past obscured ruptures, but also to discover the plurality of individuals' backgrounds, beyond Turkish national identity. On the other hand, this relationship between the individual and history seems to be reinterpreted as a genealogy of “purity” among some ultra-nationalist milieus, who not only seek to find “non-Turkish” family members of some public figures to “discredit” them, but also use this interpretation to (re)articulate a rhetoric of purity—based on “tracing” family backgrounds: as those who are “Turk soylular” [the Turkish-originated] and those who are not.

This paper will explore these dynamics among some circles visible in the public domain in Turkey with examples from mostly (but not confined to) Greco-Turkish ruptures. More specifically, it will consider different personifications of history in Turkey and address the incommensurability between different interpretations of the relationship between the individuals and history as a core issue for reconciliation: tracing family histories as a personal claim to one’s identity; tracing genealogies to generate “purism” or make “discrediting” claims based on family backgrounds; but also, questions will be raised about the possible legacies of an understanding that national history reveals the “true character” of a nation that configures a different relationship between individuals and history.