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Reviewed by:
  • Istanbul: Living with Difference in a Global City ed. by Nora Fisher-Onar, Susan C. Pearce, E. Fuat Keyman
  • Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud (bio)
Istanbul: Living with Difference in a Global City, edited by Nora Fisher-Onar, Susan C. Pearce, and E. Fuat Keyman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018. 212 pages. $120 cloth; $32.95 paper.

The last name of one of the editors of the book Istanbul was printed as Fisher-Oran. The correct spelling is Fisher-Onar. The online version has been updated to reflect this change.

Everything about Istanbul is fascinating: its Christian roots and glory, its Ottoman peak and collapse, its promise and ultimate demise under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secular republic, and its constant struggle to reject Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attempts to Islamize the city. Nora Fisher-Onar, Susan Pearce, and Fuat Keyman have produced an interesting and thoroughly researched edited volume about Istanbul, a city that struggles between its contested past and vulnerable present, a city of a strong multicultural/religious/ethnic history, yet a home of many segregated communities living side by side [End Page 507] without much interaction. It is a story about the city’s paradox as a modern, leading global center that has yet to be emancipated from its past as a historic seat of multiple empires, forging a restless struggle for space and identity.

The style is no doubt one of the most interesting qualities of this volume. Although it includes contributions by 10 different contributors, there is a thread that links all the chapters together, lending the story and the analysis a unified voice. The authors trace and explore the impact of the main political eras—Byzantine, Ottoman, secular republican, and Islamist—on shaping contemporary Istanbul. The narrative is not only about power politics but, more importantly, about resistance, resilience, and the conflicted relationships among these different forces. Indeed, as mentioned in the forward by editor Fuat Keyman, Istanbul is not just one but many cities; for some, such as the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, it can be described as hüzün (“melancholy, sorrow, or nostalgia”) or seen by others as a combination of hüzün and keyif (“enjoyment”).

As a bridge between the East and the West, the past and the present, the fabric of social life in Istanbul has been affected by many turbulent political events and has changed over the course of history. The chapter by Anna Bigelow about the Greek Orthodox Hagia Sophia basilica mirrors (and, sadly, reflects) the story of the whole city and the debate over its identity (p. 112). From a cathedral (under the Byzantine Empire) to a mosque (under the Ottomans) to a museum (under Atatürk) to the current struggle between Islamists and Kemalists, the Hagia Sophia reflects the tension between the constant attempts to protect its secular identity and its attempts to restore its Islamic identity.

The theoretical frameworks the contributors use to analyze different aspects of the city’s communities are another notable feature of the volume. The contributors’ application of the identity of space framework is most fascinating: it draws a connection between the city’s architecture (mosaics, domes, open spaces, bars, and restaurants) and its political dominance and collective identity throughout different rulers and times. Susan Pearce’s analysis of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities (LGBT) is another fascinating way to connect the city’s physical and cultural spaces; one example is the discussion of the LGBT groups’ experiences in trying to claim legitimacy, get access to public spaces, and assemble a parade while instead facing police and persecution. On the other hand, theories of multiculturalism help explain the contradictory inclusion/exclusion of different communities sharing the same space; the vibrant Beyoğlu neighborhood (where mass protests frequently take place)—with its architecture, bars, dance venues, restaurants, and cosmopolitan identity is most accepting of LGBTs—but leaves other communities, such as rural and religious, behind (p. 164).

Another example of contradictions that shun or embrace different communities over time occurs in a discussion of the exodus of Istanbul’s own old communities, which occurs in both Sami Zubaida’s and Charles...


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pp. 507-509
Launched on MUSE
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