Taksim: Forever Turkish

Reading Pamuk’s “Four Lonely Melancholic Writers” (Istanbul) was a delightful experience. His admiration for Sinasi Hisae, Yahya Kemal, Tanpinar, and Ekrem Kocu as writers reflects his own admiration for the cultural value of the city of Istanbul itself. Pamuk’s daydreaming of would-be chance encounters with these artists introduces us to his city and the many shared spaces that the author might have experienced with the writers.

In his own words, Pamuk acknowledges that “these four heroes…opened my eyes to the soul of the city in which I live.”(111) Beautifully, by reliving his love for the artistic merit of these four writers, we are kindly introduced to their city, their way of remembering its past, and our own chance encounters with their city through their artistic eyes. It is worth noting that Pamuk recognizes that these writers were once recharged by the East-West – past and present – tensions that Istanbul hosted. Their “pure poetry” was embedded in originality of an art the looked forward without apologizing for the past; their melancholic approach celebrated the Istanbul they knew and hoped to always keep alive, somehow.

Pamuk skillfully gives us a snapshot of modern realities of Istanbul and the presence of opposites, side-by-side in the city: rich minority versus sea of working majority; old buildings of Ottoman once-grandeur versus waves of ethnic immigration to a “new city.” It’s the patchwork of Istanbul forming at our very own eyes. And what more “to chance” than encountering that on the grounds of Taksim Square? That would be life-for-the-sake-of-life art!

Thus, the remodeling of boxed concepts in modern Istanbul by its own diverse population (with varied motives and aspirations) is the city’s new Istanbullus. In “Breaking Memory, Spoiling Memorization: The Taksim Protests in Istanbul,” its population stamped the city with its own signature: diversity on old grounds. The old and the new in the city concentrated in one historical site of traditional cultural value for the sake of democracy and the reshaping of  what means to be Istanbullus.

Protesters have shown that artificially propelling the city into the future without taking to heart what is meaningful to the people living in it is not what is valued by this new, multicultural self of the city identity. As the article reinforces, they cried against Erdogan’s “…conservative and repressive moralist approach to governing society…its authoritarianism…its crack down on intellectuals by restricting freedom of expression, its neoliberal development plans, its destruction of nature…its takeover of Istanbul’s old quarters and neighborhoods for neoliberal gentrification projects, its long-term repression of Kurds…and of non-Muslim minorities….” Istanbul’s many faces wanted to be seen, heard, and write their own history. Maybe these are the readers Pamuk’s writers had sought, after all. Not a city of architectural grandiosity, solely, but a city of shared spaces for shared values, aspirations, and meaning.

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