ISTANBUL (1930-40S) / 4. PEOPLE’S ROOM: POLITICS, DEMOGRAPHY AND NEW TYPOLOGY

The architectural as well as urban development of Istanbul have much to do with its political circumstances. For it had gone through a rapid change in political status in the region since early 1900s. These series of threads aim to examine the relationship of these dependent factors that cultivated the swift transformation of Istanbul and even Turkey since the 1930s.

The Ottoman Empire had left behind spatial, demographic and cultural issues heavily inherited in Istanbul and other cities of the state that hindered the secularisation and modernisation of the nation by a series of events that in the following thread is connecting to the Republican People’s Party’s response by the means of institutional and architectural reform.

First event dated back to the First World War where the nationalistic government of Ottoman Empire: the Young Turks ordered the mass deportation of all Armenians[1], except those who were residing in Istanbul, to neighbouring regions such as modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The state had fallen into a status where armed conflicts were frequently triggered.

Coupled with the Treaty of Lausanne signed during the First World War[2], where the Turco-Greek population exchange undertook, The population of Muslim in state surged during 1914 and 1927, with Istanbul left as an exception.

 

“Not only had the country become more overwhelmingly (98 percent) Muslim than ever before, but because non-Muslims had tended to concentrate in cities, the percentage of its urban population had dropped from 25 percent to 18 percent, a change that would have long-term economic consequences.” [3]

 

In fact, not only did the economy was greatly affected, it is believed that the demographic shift had become a great obstacle for the Republican People’s Party to undertake the secularisation and modernisation in the country for mainly two reasons.

Firstly, party’s had undertook a series of reforms in the aspects of script, language and educational curricula etc. The ideals of achieving the level of contemporary civilisations involved cutting all ties with the past [4] which means demoting old social hierarchies, cultures, traditions and in particular religion such as Sultanate and Islamic etc. Muslim were considered as illiterate population under the newly introduced scripts, which is Latin, and that is believed to be one of the most significant factor to drag the modernisation behind. The rise of Muslim population also means there were more people with strong religious heritage. It was difficult to change the majority of people.

Secondly, since the population, mainly Muslim were dispersed into the rural part of the country, the ideals were almost impossible to reach especially the masses living in rural village[5], where human and material resources were scarce. In the early phase of the People’s House era, it was criticised of unable to reach the rural masses which form the majority of the Turkey’s population. Only those located in the cities such as Istanbul succeed in educating the masses with nationalist ideals and modern way of life for they already had a better foundation of civilisation.

With the slight setback due to the demographic challenge left behind by the Ottoman government, the Republican People’s Party did not give up on the official community center and nation building device. Along with the ascendancy of a new bureaucracy to power within the party in 1939 to 1940, the original educational ideas of the People’s Houses were pushed into the background, not only the was the House a machine to indoctrinating the crowds, it reoriented towards internal problems and native culture. The institutional activities of the Houses expanded into every cultural fields with the emphasis on native fine art and folklore since 1940. Also, the setup of subsidiary organisation the People’s Room in the September, 1939, in both the cities and villages further spread the influences of this institutional device in order to achieve the ideals of the Party.

 

 

Reference:

[1] Zeynep Keyer, “Of Forgotten People and Forgotten Places,” in Building Modern Turkey – State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), 114.

[2] Zeynep Keyer, “Of Forgotten People and Forgotten Places,” in Building Modern Turkey – State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), 115.

[3] Zeynep Keyer, “Of Forgotten People and Forgotten Places,” in Building Modern Turkey – State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), 115.

[4] Murat Gul, “The Neglected City,” in The Emergence of Modern Istanbul – Transformation and Modernisation of a City (I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2009), 73.

[5] Ehud Houminer, “The People’s House in Turkey,” Asian and African Studies 1 (1965): 82-83, accessed December 19, 2017, https://books.google.com.hk/books?id=NljGJC5bsAUC&printsec=frontcover&hl=zh-TW&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

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