ISTANBUL (1930-40S) / 2. PEOPLE’S HOUSES: ARCHITECTURE AS PHYSICAL AND SYMBOL POLITICAL DEVICE

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.

A new democratic party, People’s Party, was established as an official political organisation after the Turkish War of Independence in September, 1923, led by the officer named Mustafa Kemal. The party was later renamed as Republican People’s Party. Large scale reform in infrastructural, institutional, and cultural fields undertook in the country. Despite having a goal as similar as the attempts to modernise Turkey were already made by the Young Turk government during the later period of the Ottoman Empire, the modernisation led by the Republican People’s Party was radically different from the previous ones for its aim to demote any traditional Ottoman culture, Sultanate and religion. In other words, the party aimed to transform the country into a society that is up to the western and secular standard by deconstructing any political figures, symbols and institutions of the Ottoman Empire. More importantly, the party went in search for a new and modern identity for the country by introducing new order of life, institution and policies that were completely separated from religions and under strict control of the ruling party[1].

Architecture became on of the symbolic container that embodies the ideals envisioned as well as a physical container that enables the ideals to be enact. The prominent example is the establishment of the People’s House (“Halkevleri” or “Halkevi”). The House embodies the principle of Populism, one of the six principles in the Turkish constitution of 1924[2], constituent of the ideal Kemalism. One of the ideas the Kemalism is based on that is “Sovereignty belongs to the people/nation unrestrictedly and unconditionally.” and that the political power orients towards the best interest of the general public. The People’s House was establish with the purpose of bridging the gap between the intelligentsia and people by teaching the first of these the national culture which lay among the Anatolian masses and, the second, the rudiments of civilisation, and an indoctrination of the nationalist secular ideas of the Republican regime.

Before People’s Houses, there were already non-political cultural organisations, Turkish Hearths set up in Istanbul in 1912. These clubs were popular among intellectual circles tending to the expansionist ideology of Pan-Turanism which was opposite in nature to that of the republican party, and therefore they were considered incapable of broadening  their organisation and adjusting to the new condition which eventually led to the replacement of the Turkish Hearths clubs by the People’s House in the party congress in 1931 and inaugurated on 19 February, 1932[3]. A series of programs of folklore research were initiated through the People’s House in order for the ruling party to discover and educated the public with the “cultural and national identity of the ‘real Turks’”.

Survey of People’s Houses and People’s Room across the country on 20 February, 1949

Not only was the introduction of the People’s House seen as a new type of civic and institutional architecture that stood against the mosque that was once the social, cultural and religious center of the Ottoman era, it is also a political assertion of power and authority to declare the determination to secularise the traditional Turkish way to combined religious and political power of the Sultanate. There were 14 People’s House set up in the first year followed its establishment and the number had boomed within a short 17 year-span reaching a total of around 478 nationwide in a survey conducted in 20 February, 1949 (Number varies across different researches). The effort made by the republican party to educate the ideals by constructing the Houses, each city has a number of Houses ranging from 1 to 29 depends on the size of the city (Figure 1) while Istanbul has 17 by that time [4].

The People’s Houses provides a variety of activities and programmes categorised under nine departments namely 1. Language and Culture, 2. Arts, 3. Theatricals, 4. Sports, 5. Social Assistance, 6. Classes and Courses, 7. Libraries and Publishing, 8. Department for Aid to the Village, and 9. Museums and History Departments. Despite the great variety, the activities were to be predetermined and homogeneous as much as the architecture design itself is in order to facilitate party assistance and supervision to advocate the party’s ideal. There was the Instructions for the People’s Houses laid down by the party so that the Houses could strictly follow. During the 19-year span of the short-lived People’s Houses, with strict and organised structures and supervision, the Houses had become one of the most irreplaceable instrument for the ruling party to carried out reform with a cultural and social facade.

 

 

Reference:

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

[2] Kemal H. Kerpat, “The People’s Houses in Turkey: Establishment and Growth,” Middle East Journal 17, no. 1/2 (1963): 55, accessed December 13, 2017, doi:147.8.106.78.

[3] Ehud Houminer, “The People’s House in Turkey,” Asian and African Studies 1 (1965): 82, 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.

[4] Zeki ARIKA, “HALKEVLERININ KURULUŞU VE TARIHSEL IŞLEVI,” 28.

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