compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary/TIRN on MAY 6, 2015: 

Nora Fisher Onar is a Research Associate of the Centre for International Studies of the University of Oxford and a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC. Fisher Onar presented “The Cosmo-Politics of Nostalgia: Istanbul, Identity, and Difference” at the March 19, 2015 workshop “Turkish Reasonable Accommodations: From Multiculturalism to Secular Nationalism and Back.”

“Istanbul is I think a fascinating site of analysis. We’ve heard about how it’s been an imperial capitol for almost three millennia and so it’s brought together groups of different ethnic, sectarian, religious, civilizational orientations,” said Fisher Onar, beginning her presentation. “In Orhan Pamuk’s words Istanbul is just emerging perhaps from a century of being a backwater. It’s never been as provincial for the past 2,000 years as it has been for the past 100 or 85 or so (years).”

She then argued: “I think we can make the claim that although Istanbul became a backwater, although it became homogenized along with the general process of the homogenizing nation-building that took place from the 1920s onwards, there was still a persistence, there as a certain sort of post-imperial cosmopolitan persistence in Istanbul and that we can access in various traces left upon the city.” Continue reading


Erdag Goknar discusses the ramifications of the post WWI-partition of the Middle East. (Photo by Julie Harbin)
Erdag Goknar discusses the ramifications of the post WWI-partition of the Middle East. (Photo by Julie Harbin)

DURHAM, NC - At the end of World War I, the defeated capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, was “a city of poverty and refugees” with a multi-ethnic population of 1 million, with 100,000 refugees including Balkan Muslims, Russians, Crimean and Caucasian Muslims, Jews, Armenians and Turks.

“Multiple ethnicities and languages mixed and mingled. Each brought with it a separate ideology and vision,” said Duke Associate Professor of Turkish & Middle Eastern Studies Erdağ Göknar, speaking last week as part of the provost office’s Thomas Langford Lectureship.

When the British, French, Italians and Greeks arrived to occupy the city in 1918, they ignored the cosmopolitan space of the city, focusing instead on nationalities. The logic of emphasizing national groups was informed by Wilsonian principles of national self-determination. This was the same logic that led to the greater partition of Ottoman territory that Göknar said reconstituted the Middle East and whose violent consequences can be seen throughout the region today.

There were parts of the city that protested the occupation (mostly Muslims) and parts of the city that celebrated it (the minority populations). The occupation prefigured a human tragedy, what some scholars call the “unmixing” of people (“a euphemism for religious or ethnic cleansing”), as Göknar said. Continue reading


Professor Erdağ Göknar sits down with Professors Cemal Kafadar and Cemil Aydin  to discuss the various versions and “revisions” of Istanbul through the ages.

Göknar is an Associate Professor of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. Kafadar is a Professor of Turkish Studies at Harvard University. Aydin is a Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This conversation was made possible by the Rethinking Global Cities project, a Duke University project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s “Partnership in a Global Age.”



How the Occupation of Istanbul Shaped the Modern Middle East (on Goknar’s recent Langford lecture, by Julie Poucher Harbin for Duke Today)


View of Levent from the Bosphorous, Summer 2012. (photo courtesy Sibel Bozdoğan) Levent is one of the main business districts of Istanbul, located on the European side of the city.
View of Levent from the Bosphorous, Summer 2012. (photo courtesy Sibel Bozdoğan) Levent is one of the main business districts of Istanbul, located on the European side of the city.

“Istanbul is the economic, cultural, and historical heart of Turkey, and the only city in the world located on two continents. Between 1453 and 1922, Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, which extended into southeastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. Until 1924, it was the seat of the last Islamic caliphate. Due to its extensive history, Istanbul has been called a “palimpsest city,”bearing the remains of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. During an era of Middle Eastern nationalism, Istanbul became a peripheral urban center, and only regained its position as a world city at the turn of the twenty-first century. Today, it is one of the top-ten tourist destinations in the world. In 2010, Istanbul was named European Capital of Culture.  In 2013, there were violent anti-government protests in the city, which targeted massive urban renewal projects and the conservative, neoliberal order embraced by the ruling AK Party.” — Rethinking Global Cities, Duke University, 2014

“Money, capital, labor has no religion, nation, race or country. Money is like mercury. It flows wherever it finds a suitable channel, a secure ground for itself. If you can prepare this ground, it will come to you; otherwise it will flow somewhere else. We are determined to prepare this ground.” — Prime Minister Erdoğan, speech at G-20 summit, 2009


UnknownIn the past decade, Istanbul has undergone an immense political and economic transformation, making it “an ideal site to study the contradictory forces that come together to produce urban spaces,” says Duke University Turkish Studies professor Erdag Göknar.

Göknar is principal investigator of a year-long Rethinking Global Cities project at Duke, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that is investigating the complex, hybrid and contested cultural and human geographies of the following world cities — Bangkok, Beijing, Bogota, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Mumbai, Tokyo and Vienna — in the context of national and global politics. (The centerpiece of this project is a conference this week, with the Febuary 5 keynote on “Virtual Uprisings: Tahrir Square” by Nezar Al Sayyad, Professor of Architecture, Design, Urban Planning & Urban History, UC Berkeley.)

As part of this project, Göknar invited Sibel Bozdoğan — a lecturer in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture at Kadir Has University in Turkey — to speak at Duke this past December.

Bozdoğan’s research, at the intersection of Turkish politics and urban renewal, examines the ways in which ideology shapes and is shaped by urban form and analyzes the tensions between state power and city space. Her work spans cross-cultural histories of modern architecture and urbanism in Europe, America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East with a specialization on Turkey.

On December 4 she addressed a Duke lecture hall packed with architecture, design, Turkish studies and Middle East scholars on the timely, if controversial, topic — “Urban Development as Politics of Performance: Istanbul’s Transformation under the AKP.”

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This is a Call for Papers for a session titled: “Visualizing Modernity in the Nineteenth Century: Photographs and Print Culture from the Middle East, Iran, North Africa and South Asia.” Continue reading