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Imagining the Turkish Nation

Though anthropology is an academic discipline concerned with studying people, sometimes it must contend with the built environment, and structures that have (or seem to have) a personality of their own. For indeed, as Houston (2008) points out, “built environments become social ‘actors’ in themselves” (139). Some structures seem to be bestowed with certain human characteristics by the communities of which they are a part, becoming concrete, physical manifestations of the nationalist spirit of a people. This spirit is sometimes imagined to have been embodied by a particular, previously living, founder or patriarch, and now memorialized by a constructed monument to that patriarch and the perpetuation of what Anderson (1991) calls the imagined national community. “Imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (6-7). I first experienced this phenomenon of built structures embodying the nationalist spirit while teaching English in China, where I was introduced to the cult of Mao, which is most palpable when watching the slowly snaking line outside his mausoleum waiting to be paraded past his remains. I have been confronted with it again since moving to Turkey three months ago. In Turkey, the concept of the Turkish nation is synonymous with one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic. What he represents for Turkey, and more specifically for the Turkish nationalist project, is embodied in the structure of his mausoleum, Anıtkabir.

Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey on 29 October 1923, and ruled as its first president until his death on 10 November 1938 (Mango 2004). On 10 November 1953, the fifteenth anniversary of his death, Atatürk’s body was moved to Anıtkabir. According to Wilson (2009) the structure was intentionally built as a symbolic representation of Atatürk and the Turkish nation: “Anıtkabir communicated—and continues to communicate—the constructed identity of the Turkish Republic, educating future generations about their past. Anıtkabir, like most monuments, represents and politicizes the past, shaping the memory of Turks and the identity of the Turkish nation” (249). The structure itself does overwhelm one. Imagine, if you will, what it might be like if the symbolism of all the monuments and memorials in Washington, DC could be distilled into one monumental complex, and you will have some idea of the awe-inspiring feeling of Turkish nationalism one is struck by while walking up the lion road (a wide walkway flanked by lion statues in the style of ancient Anatolia) and across the central square of the complex toward the mausoleum. After ascending a set of stairs and walking through an entry flanked by the text of two of Atatürk’s speeches, the symbolic marble tomb of Atatürk can be seen at the end of an empty hall. His actual tomb is one floor below, in a sealed room accessible to the public only via a closed-circuit television in the museum portion of the complex. This actual tomb is fraught with symbolism, as it is encircled by brass vases containing soil from each of the 81 provinces of Turkey (as well as Northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan). “Atatürk is thus literally enveloped by the territory of the nation” (Wilson: 249). Yet, beyond the physical structure and Atatürk’s tomb, Anıtkabir also contributes to the perpetuation of Turkish nationalism through the history told in the museum that is also housed in the complex.

^ never passed a history class

by -

Thinks whites always ruled everything.
Do you know how stupid you sound?
If Spain hadn't held off the moors we'd all be dark skinned.
Eastern (Asian) armies almost conquered Europe.
And I'm sure you must be ignorant of the crusades and the turkish invasion of Europe.
Get an education, you're an idiot.

Greek islanders visit Turkey for grocery shopping  — Daily Sabah
.. many people come to Turkey from the Greek Islands including Lesbos. "Greek tourists come to Kemeraltı between 10:00 a.m. and 04:30p.m. Within this time period, they spend [quite a bit].

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