About the Project

This collection of information on memorial projects in Turkey highlights positive examples of memorialization among the many groups and individuals that have suffered harm or grievance over the past 100 years in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. This project is a collaboration between the World Policy Institute in New York, the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Hafıza Merkezi in Istanbul. It grew from the realization that Turkey shares many features with other societies moving from oppression and violence into a more peaceful, democratic future.

The initial project idea was suggested by Belinda Cooper of the World Policy Institute after attending Hafıza Merkezi’s first workshop on Memorialization in December 2011. To explore further the many questions surrounding memorialization and the ways in which it can contribute to human rights and democracy that came up during this first workshop, we organized a follow-up workshop in Mardin in February 2013 that brought together participants from various political, ethnic and religious groups with an interest in memorialization.

We also invited experts on memorialization from Germany, Israel, and Bosnia, three countries that are also grappling with difficult and contested histories. This website is an outgrowth of that workshop. It provides information on the many initiatives throughout Turkey that seek to address historical events that have been denied, repressed, or misinterpreted.

These efforts may be controversial, and not all are equally successful. But the very act of grappling with history in new and honest ways, we believe, is a step towards a more democratic and just society in which all groups and all people are respected and heard.

Team

The project was organized by Belinda Cooper, Meltem Aslan and Murat Çelikkan. Harun Ercan researched and wrote the entries. The website is designed by Derin Korman.

Sponsors

The project is grateful to the Fetzer Institute, http://www.fetzer.org/, which provided funding for both the conference and the website, and to the World Policy Institute, which provided administrative support. We would also like to thank the Sabancı Museum for hosting the Mardin workshop, Mesut Alp for his support during the workhop and Nar Photos for the photographs.

The Role of Memorialization

Observers of countries in transition believe that these countries cannot move forward from periods of violence or repression if they do not deal honestly with their history. But this is never a simple task. At least two sides, if not more, face each other in situations of conflict and repression, and each possesses a different view of historical “truth.” Victims and perpetrators create vastly different narratives regarding their experiences: victims often focus on their own suffering, while perpetrators deny their role in causing that suffering or emphasize their own victimization in turn. These responses become still more complicated in cases where groups or individuals are implicated as both perpetrators and victims.

Memorialization is a primary means of presenting and dealing with these narratives. Memorials, or public acts of remembering, may vary greatly in form: they may be statues, parks, or museums, or less permanent commemorations such as demonstrations, theatrical productions, and traveling exhibitions. They may incorporate educational activities, shared learning and communication. And they may also play a variety of roles. Manipulated by political forces, memorials may emphasize grievances or glorify conflict, and thus encourage renewed hostility. But they may also serve a more constructive purpose by educating new generations, promoting reflection, healing, inclusion and reconciliation, and even serving as atonement. This aspect of memorialization, which contributes to peace and democratization, is what this website aims to present.

This collection of information on memorial projects in Turkey highlights positive examples of memorialization among the many groups and individuals that have suffered harm or grievance over the past 100 years in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. The number and variety of examples exceeded our original expectations and showed that a real need exists for almost all the constituents of the society to commemorate “dark spots” in Ottoman and Turkish history, as a first step in creating a shared historical narrative. The examples chosen highlight efforts that help to reinforce the idea of human rights, educate wider audiences about historical events that have been denied or suppressed, and ultimately promote understanding and reconciliation among the many ethnic, political and religious groups that make up Turkey’s multifaceted population. This group of examples will be expanded. It will also be supplemented with information from around the world on memorials and their function and effects. In this way, we hope to promote the honest debate and engagement that are necessary for a healthy democracy.

Memorialization Projects