Ankara(1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: The Political Context of Ankara in 1920s-30s
In Jansen’s original master plan for Ankara, it was obviously literal and symbolic in the careful design of a symmetrical boulevard, locations of Government institutions and monuments. However, the consequences, to the physical form and language of Ankara, of series of changes in plans made by Atatürk, were highly underrated by the President himself. In the following series of blog posts, we would look into how the city is served as a stage of political narratives particular in the case of Ankara.
The result of rerouting the North-South axis to the Southeast (terminating at the Presidential Palace instead of the National Assembly) was almost immediate. Milli Müdafaa (National Defense) Avenue, which formed the western edge of the site lost importance and decayed; while the western edge naming after the President (Atatürk Boulevard), flourished. Housing development along the boulevard drastically increased afterwards towards the Kavaklıdere- Çankaya Hills, and numerous luxurious villas stood on the way to the Presidential Palace (Kezer 2015). Thus, the imbalanced urban development and pattern for population growth were further intensified and diversified in the isolated “Old City”, eastern, and the western Ankara. What is more critical is the violation of the carefully scripted symbolism in the master plan. Rudolf Nadolny, the German Ambassador in Turkey from 1924 to 1933, described in his autobiography that, the Presidential Palace became the crowning element in the layout of the capital and the narrative it was to engender (Nadolny 1985), undercutting power of the National Assembly.”The axis turned into a service road between office buildings rather than the ceremonial passage it was envisioned to be”, and the connection between the National Assembly and the rest of the Government Quarter was further weakened upon the completion of the new westbound artery in 1960 through the Government Quarter, National Assembly became totally isolated (Kezer 2015). This actually revealed the large disputes over the country’s political order, thus how Atatürk expanded his public personhood in the early ages of the Republic.
Although various political parties and Nationalists in Turkey were united during the War of Independence for their desire to fight against the post- WWI occupation, they did not share common vision towards the government, namely, the political faction that aspired a liberal state with a parliamentary democracy, and the military-bureaucratic cadres who were eager to carry out Western civilization and create a “modern unitary nation-state”, leaded by Atatürk. Population went restless also due to constant instability and violence among Turkey, including rebellion of the wartime alliances such as the Kurds and the Şeyh Said Rebellion, and the riots during the Great Depression in the 20s. These had given the Atatürk Government excuses to limit people’s freedom and narrow his circle of power, assuming tighter control on the National Assembly and further drained its importance. Geoffrey Knox, the British chargé d’affaires in Ankara wrote in a letter to the Foreign Office:
In constitutional theory Turkey is a republic, in which the sovereignty of the people is expressed in an elected Assembly, which itself nominates for the term of its own life a President of the Republic, in whom are vested very limited powers. The reality is less simple. The National Assembly is composed almost entirely of nominees of the People’s party, major projects of policy are dealt with in the first instance by the party committee, the real debating body, which proceeds in secret… The initiation of these policies rest with a body even more powerful than the party committee—the private Cabinet of Chankaya. This consists of the President of the Republic himself and his Cabinet, I am inclined to believe, carries less weight… With reservation it is, I think, safe to say, that in all major matters the Government of the country lies essentially in the hands of the President and the inner conclave. (emphasis added) (Gökay 1997)
Given that Presidential Palace had gradually transformed to a venue serving both as a residence and office, it had become the centre of Ankara’s social and political life, just as the altered plan symbolized. Atatürk created a sense of superiority and authority by establishing his own set of rules in the Palace, and hiring only second-class men as his entourage for better grip of power. “Whereas the social and political positions of the members of this inner conclave were defined by their proximity to the leader, it was their faithful and spectacular subservience that reinforced the visibility of Atatürk’s charismatic power”, noted Kezer (Kezer 2015). That significantly shaped Ankara’s elite’s residential landscape as they were eager to live near the Palace to accumulate political capital and influence the planning and profit gains. Comparing to the original symbolism implemented in Jansen’s Plan, it is hard to comment whether it is beneficial or not, yet mentioning the ideology of the new republican capital or even Turkey, the altered plan might have already shown to the world the ‘real’ Turkey.
Gökay, Bülent. “Volume 31: Turkey, March 1927 – December 1929.” In British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confindential Print, Series B: Turkey, Iran, and the Middle East 1918-1939, 11-12. United States of America: University Publications of America, 1997.
Kezer, Zeynep. Building Modern Turkey: State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic. United States of America: the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.
Nadolny, Rudolf. Mein Beitrag: Erinnerungen eines Botschafters des Deutschen Reiches. Cologne: DME-Verlag, 1985.