Eastern Eyes, Western Gaze: The Politics of Alexandretta in Tar?k Mümtaz’s Cartoons, 1933-1934

By Ilkim Buke Okyar
Submitted to Session P4991 (Poetics of the Political, 2017 Annual Meeting
Syria; Turkey;
19th-21st Centuries; Identity/Representation; Nationalism; Turkish Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
During my PhD research, I came across a copy of a rare magazine named “Karagöz and Hac?vat”. The magazine was published in the region of Alexandretta, contested at the time between Turkey and French-ruled Syria. It was published for a short period in the early 1930s, and named after the two popular protagonists of the Turkish folk culture in order to resuscitate the origins and significance of the Turks in the disputed region.
The journal was illustrated and published by the local journalist Tar?k Mümtaz, who was once a strong opponent of the newly established Turkish Republic and of Mustafa Kemal, and was hence exiled by the Turkish government to Damascus. There, his critique was aimed towards the mandatory government of France in Syria that exiled him once again, this time to the province of Alexandretta. During his banishment in Alexandretta, he became more favorable towards the Turkish cause. In 1933 the Turkish authorities granted him a general pardon.
The paper proposes to examine the socio-political mood and the construction of Turkish nationalism in Alexandretta between the years of 1933-1934, during the great debate on the region’s fate, through the cartoons of Tar?k Mümtaz, a local journalist. His political satire gazette was particularly interesting not only because of its artistically rich provincial characteristics, but also because it cracked open a door to the political atmosphere in Alexandretta at the time (1933-1934). Journalists like Mümtaz were a very important group of opinion makers; and were instrumental in promulgating and reflecting the dominant ideology.
My proposed study aims to explore the reproduction of Turkish nationalist discourse in the Sanjak through Mümtaz’s artistically rich sense of humor. Thus contribute to the literature on the construction of Turkishness as an essential ingredient in self-determination and identity creation. The study will attempt to show that this construction is multi-layered and dynamic. The anti-Arab spirit of the new Turkish nationalism, hitched to the process of creating a new, “civilized” Turkish identity, expressed itself openly and violently in the cartoons of the early Republican period. It would be interesting to follow the complex traces of Turkish influence on the cartoons of Tar?k Mümtaz, who was once a major opponent of Turkishness. One of the supplementary questions my proposed study intends to look at is the possibility of another option – one that is neither Turkish nor Arab, but rather an independent Alexandrettan identity.