Mapping provinces and populations: socio-medical geographies of the early Turkish republic

By Kyle T. Evered
Submitted to Session P3928 (Biopolitics, Public Health, and Morality in Turkey and Iran, 2014 Annual Meeting
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Established in May 1920—almost three and one-half years prior to the Ottoman Empire’s eventual collapse in October 1923, the nascent Turkish republic’s Ministry of Health and Social Assistance articulated public health concerns that were shared by many modern states of the era. In seeking to address these concerns, the ministry and state officials established a bureaucracy and ambitious agenda for combating public health problems and promoting policies of pronatalism. In particular, one of the first projects of the ministry entailed shifting the “clinical gaze” of the country’s physicians from a focus on the body of the patient to the body of the nation. Creating an informational basis for this medicalized framing of its populace, the ministry initiated comprehensive surveys of both its lands and its peoples. In this paper, I present an analysis of volumes from “The Medical-Social Geography of Turkey” and data from other primary sources that reveal the ways in which the republic’s officials prioritized the aggregation of data about territories, populace, and public health. In doing so, I reveal how Turkey’s early leaders and physicians not only sought to establish governance through public health but also actively employed notions of geography and its application as a tool of statecraft to achieve their medical and political ends.