Ankara (1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: Public Space and Social Invasion of Atatürk in Ankara

Ankara (1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: Public Space and Social Invasion of Atatürk in Ankara
Victory Square, with Canonica's Atatürk Monument in the middle. The Officers' Club, which in later years will expand to both sides of the park, overlooks the green space. Image Courtesy of Burçak Evren.

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).

Victory Square, with Canonica's Atatürk Monument in the middle. The Officers' Club, which in later years will expand to both sides of the park, overlooks the green space. Image Courtesy of Burçak Evren.
Victory Square, with Canonica’s Atatürk Monument in the middle. The Officers’ Club, which in later years will expand to both sides of the park, overlooks the green space. Image Courtesy of Burçak Evren.

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.

 

Atatürk Boulevard, Ministry of Health, Ankara Boys’ High School [Stone Maktab / Taş Mektep], Numune Hospital, 1930s. Image Courtesy of Turkey in Photographs, Directorate General of Press and Information Archive.
Atatürk Boulevard, Ministry of Health, Ankara Boys’ High School [Stone Maktab / Taş Mektep], Numune Hospital, 1930s. Image Courtesy of Turkey in Photographs, Directorate General of Press and Information Archive.
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).

President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (center) and Prime Minister İsmet İnönü (left) leaving the Grand National Assembly of Turkey during the 7th anniversary celebrations of the Turkish Republic in 1930. Image Courtesy of Turkey in Photographs, Directorate General of Press and Information Archive.
President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (center) and Prime Minister İsmet İnönü (left) leaving the Grand National Assembly of Turkey during the 7th anniversary celebrations of the Turkish Republic in 1930. Image Courtesy of Turkey in Photographs, Directorate General of Press and Information Archive.

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.

 

Bibliography:

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.

 

2 Comments on “Ankara (1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: Public Space and Social Invasion of Atatürk in Ankara

  1. This article shows an extreme example of how the design of the city poses direct impact on the behaviour of the people. In this case of Ankara, the physical structures were used to formulate citizens’ way of living in the public. The control was reinforced by policies to monitor people’s behaviours and way of dressing in the city. This reminds me of Haussmannisation – houses were demolished to make way for the grand boulevards, for the celebration of the monarchy. The boulevards were decorated with arrays of trees and outdoor seats of cafes, turning the public space into a stage strictly for classy activities. These restrictions are simply implemented to strengthen the political regime. The ‘modern lifestyle’ promoted by Atatürk was taken as an achievement to be made in his reign. It is inhumane to use urbanisation as a tool to control public spaces and force citizens to behave in a certain manner.

    • There are plenty of examples in modern city planning history about how a master plan was used to restrict people’s behavior, Haussmannisation that you mentioned was one of the great one. I like how you used the term ‘Inhumane’, as the similarity between both Hausmann’s and Ankara’s case is they were trying to pursue a city ‘Aesthetic’ or ‘Ideology’ instead of for people to live. However in Ankara’s case, what was observed is that even we had a ‘hardware'(the master plan by the German Architect Hermann Jansen) that suppose to facilitate civic and cultural exchange, it lost its power unless the ‘software’ (policies and implementation) were fully implemented. We suppose that was where the ‘mistranslation’ occurred.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.