- Yasak/Banned from Sultan Abdülhamid II to President Erdoğan:Reappropriating the Past and the Subjectivities of Censorship
The idea for a conference in Ottoman and Turkish Studies at the intersection of history, politics, and culture began with a conversation at the Fall 2016 Middle East Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C., between Erdağ Göknar, director of the Duke Middle East Studies Center, and Kent Schull, editor of the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association (JOTSA). With an eye toward the publication of a related special issue of JOTSA, they also agreed to serve as co-editors of an issue on the late Ottoman and Republican transition period and its legacies with respect to AKP rule.
Emphasizing the synchronic aspects of the Ottoman legacy, Yasak/Banned covered a "long twentieth century," beginning with Abdülhamid II's reign and extending to the present rule of the AKP led by Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. There was great interest in the topic from a broad spectrum of colleagues representing the fields of architecture, cultural geography, gender and sexuality studies, history, literature, and sociology. The conference subheading, "Print Media and Cultural Spaces from Abdülhamid to Erdoğan," highlighted the tensions between cultural production and state power. Professor Edhem Eldem (Boğaziçi, History) agreed to present a keynote entitled, "Abdülhamid II: Founding Father of the Turkish State?" A showcase of the conference was an exhibition of a newly acquired collection at Duke University of late Ottoman and Republican Turkish satire magazines and political cartoons. Sean Swanick, Duke librarian of Middle East and Islamic Studies, provides a survey of the valuable collection in this special issue. Eight of the twelve participants, representing internationally renowned scholars as well as young practitioners, submitted articles. The contributions, representing important developments in the field, emphasized the critical and intertwined themes of the subjectivity of censorship and reappropriations of the past. [End Page 9]
In contemporary Turkey social and political actors carefully select, articulate, and disseminate historical figures, events, images, and motifs for present consumption as a means of swaying public opinion to castigate adversaries or to support one's cause. Taboo issues can suddenly become permissible and vice versa as state and societal actors "reappropriate the past" through the orchestrated deployment of selective memory and "subjective censorship" to legitimate their ideological agendas. These "reappropriations of the past," be they depictions of Sultan Adbülhamid II or the Second Constitutional Period, Kanuni Sultan Süleyman's harem, iconic images of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the headscarf, issues of ethno-religious violence and the sources of economic prosperity, or Islam as authentic cultural morality, become the battle grounds of public opinion.
The political cartoon is at the heart of many of the battles of representation and censorship in this special issue's articles. The power and influence of the political cartoon transcends time and technology from the late Ottoman period until the present. How a person or organization depicts a leader or issue through caricatures can reveal one's agenda, political philosophy, selective memory, and the subjectivity of censorship in both subtle and overt ways. These representations can also act as windows into the disputes and contestations of the day in both the private and public spheres. From graphic political cartoons to the choice of which picture of Atatürk to display in one's place of business, each provides insights into issues of state power and censorship, whether externally or self-imposed, and the ways in which actors attempt to conform to, resist, shape, or appropriate the discourses of the day. Each article in this issue skillfully investigates these phenomena of reappropriating the past and the subjective nature of censorship to illustrate the contested and constantly evolving nature of the deployment of images and symbols for various political agendas that examine continuities between the late Ottoman era and the contemporary Republic of Turkey.
The matter of the late Ottoman legacy remains in the forefront of Turkish and Middle East studies as a focus of interdisciplinary scholarship and politics. Broadly, a renewed focus on the "post-Ottoman" Middle East by scholars emphasizes the...