Saturday, January 3, 2009: 3:10 PM
Petit Trianon (Hilton New York)
The ruins of the 17th century Ottoman fortresses of Seddülbahir and Kumkale, situated at the Aegean entrance to the Dardanelles, pose a challenge to the official historiographic tradition of the modern Republic of Turkey
. The collapsing walls of the two fortresses are concrete reminders to Turkish citizens, who make regular pilgrimages to this region, and to those who live in the adjacent villages, that its history includes more than the famed victories of Turkish troops over the Allied forces during the Gallipoli campaign of World War One. The fortresses were also built with the patronage of a woman, Hadice Turhan Sultan, the mother of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV, to protect the Ottoman Empire’s western frontier from the Venetian navy. Modern Turkish historiography rarely mentions the role of women in the Ottoman past; and when women do appear, they are often described as scheming and opportunist members of the harem whose intrigues contributed to the eventual “decline” of the empire. Hadice Turhan Sultan’s role in developing Seddülbahir and Kumkale thus confounds traditional Turkish historiography.
Based on an oral history project I conducted at Seddülbahir and Kumkale, 1999--2002, my presentation will explore how post World War One migrant residents of the villages adjacent to these Ottoman fortresses incorporated their physical reality into a unique historical narrative, one that conflates the Ottoman past of this region with its nationalist and gendered historiography. My presentation will also examine how oral history reveals the disjunctures and complex processes of negotiation that emerge when a strong nationalist historiography confronts residents of an unstable and war-torn region. I will conclude by examining how political changes in Turkey since 2002 and the more religious and conservative agenda of the present day government are shaping a new narrative for the Gallipoli peninsula, its Ottoman and Republican pasts.