This collection of information on memorial projects in Turkey highlights 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 selection neither claims to exclusively cover all the memorialization efforts, nor argues to include all different components of the memory scene in Turkey. Our aim is, rather, to provide a selected anthology of different memorialization efforts, which is open to contribution and collaboration.
Turkey has a controversial past with forms of state violence, represented by a one-sided and rigid conventional national memory. Alternative memory narratives have been brutally repressed, denied or manipulated in the long history of memory conflicts. This rigid picture, however, began to change at the commencement of the 2000s, and a new memory space, a contentious political, cultural and symbolic space, opened up when the discourse of democratization and accession to the European Union was high on the official agenda. One can even talk about a memory boost in the context of the post 2000’s Turkey. Different contentious groups, initiatives and platforms flourished on how to interpret the dominant narratives of memory and the repertoire of state violence in Turkey. Several narratives of the past began to be disseminated in the public sphere by different competing political and cultural groups such as different Muslim and conservative groups and platforms, feminist initiatives and women groups, Kurds mobilized in the hinterland of the Kurdish political movement, radical leftists, nationalist and secular initiatives, Jew and Christian communities and divers LGBTIQ movement, which altogether formed contentious fragments of memory.
It would be wrong, however, to limit the memory boost solely with the initiatives occurred at the beginning of 2000s. Various political movements already established several memory initiatives in relation with their political commitment and struggle. Beginning by the end of the 1980s, therefore, different political initiatives were establishing an alternative memory scene where there were dealing with the past including themselves as a political actor. These groups, mostly related with different political organizations such as Kurdish political movement or feminist organizations, continued their struggle in the new conjuncture of the memory boost and diversified the alternative memory scene in Turkey.
The memory boost came under overwhelming pressure after the radical change of the political climate in Turkey. Following the blatant demise of the peace process in the context of the Kurdish conflict in 2015 and the failed coup attempt in 2016, the public space opened up in relation with alternative memorialization works, led by public institutions, civil society organizations or political initiatives, has been closed down. In Kurdish cities, memorials and parks built in times of peace were destroyed and renamed. Still, both more historical attempts of alternative memorialization and truth telling efforts such as Saturday Mothers/Persons or more recent memory initiatives such as memory walks organized by civil society organizations are ongoing. Also, in recent years, Turkey’s memory scene witnessed the rise of many independent memory initiatives. These projects were mostly based in digital spaces, either next to or instead of physical spaces, and were more innovative and participatory in their approaches.