Ankara (1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: Public Space and Social Invasion of Atatürk in Ankara
Apart from undercutting the power and significance of the National Assembly by altering the master plan and ‘utilizing’ his Presidential Palace, Atatürk often extended his influence to the public to further amplify his authority.
The deconstruction of the Triumphal Arch and replacement with the Victory Monument of Atatürk himself, and the militarization of the twin park, were regarded as the first move of violation of the neutral character of outdoor civic space of Atatürk. However, the incursion did not stop merely here. To facilitate his “jaunts” around the Ankara town, several institutional, public buildings were designed with dedicated rooms for Atatürk to work and rest, including the Turkish Hearths Association, the Faculty of Language, History, and Geography, and the new train station. They served as an extension of the Presidential Palace. Locating in public buildings, they further implied that “the whole Ankara was under Atatürk’s gaze” (Kezer 2015).
Atatürk also had strict controls over civic spaces, especially those where republican media frequently used to promote modern lifestyles. He often patrolled along the Atatürk Boulevard with his large group of entourage to claim the state ownership over the strip. During special celebration or state visits, while people used to line up along the route and cheered for him happily, he sent the mayor-governor Nevzat Tandoğan to screen citizens standing along the main arteries, ensuring them to meet with the image of a modern citizen (Kezer 2015). People like peasants, beggars, loiterers would not be seen especially along the Boulevard. These security measures implemented ran completely in contrary to what Lörcher and Jansen proposed – a cultural hub and a true modern, public space for citizens, yet again, just a ‘stage’ for political demonstration.
Ironically, this kind of ‘Turkish Style’ of modernization still recalls much of the former age Ottoman Empire. Despite of the fact that the new Turkish republic government was fighting hard to establish a brand new image and vigorous rejections towards the Ottoman Empire, similarities were still found in the personal worship towards the leader. Turning the format from a rather religious circumstances and polish it into a national and ceremonial way, Atatürk took the advantages of people’s familiarity towards these seemingly ‘interactive’ practice, “which projected a sense of participation without really delivering it” (Kezer 2015), as a demonstration to avoid condemnation from other political parties and the parliament (Deringil 1998).
This exposed the underlying fact that the leader of the new Republic did not have a full understanding towards ‘modernization’ and ‘westernization’. They were just attracted by the layout and image of the western metropolitan and thus eager to catch up and be the same. However, they overlooked the fundamental values embedded under the city planning, such as democracy, liberal citizens, public spaces, etc. which caused the failure of direct translation from the German Plan to the Turkish context. The different interpretations on ideologies and terms was the main reason of causing the contradiction between the proposal and realization of the master plan. These mistranslations would be further discussed in the coming posts.
Deringil, Selim. The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876-1909. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.
Kezer, Zeynep. Building Modern Turkey: State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic. United States of America: the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.