ISTANBUL (1930-40S) / PEOPLE’S HOUSE — THE CITY AND THE VILLAGE
The goal of the Republican’s People Party (RPP) to extend their influence into the Turkish social sphere through People’s Houses was met with varied extent of success, and this could be evaluated through differentiating the city and the village in the Turkish nation.
The idea of People Houses first appeared in the urban setting as they were regarded as the socio-cultural nodes in their respective town that would disseminate Kemalist ideologies and bring forth modernization to the Turkish nation. The People’s Houses in Istanbul, their theatres in particular, were among those that were relatively successful. Being stripped of her capital city status in 1923, Istanbul had become politically and economically marginalized during the 1930-40s. Even so, Istanbul had remained, as it had been for centuries, the cultural capital of Turkey. Istanbul was equipped with a largely popular entertainment scene and deep-rooted theatrical culture.
With such given context, the theatres operated by the People’s Houses in Istanbul were able to use the city’s historical theatrical culture as foundation and merge into the already vibrant theatrical scene. The plays organized by the People’s Houses in Istanbul had enjoyed great popularity among the masses compared to that in Eastern Turkey (Fig. 1) and this serves as an evidence that the People’s House was quite successful in blending in the urban life of city dwellers in Turkey.
On the contrary, the People’s Houses in the village stood as a testimony for the failure of the People’s Houses movement.
Attempts were made by the RPP to extend its influence into to countryside, one of which was the establishment of the People’s Rooms (Halkodalari) in 1939. The Rooms were scaled-down versions of the Houses that were mostly built in villages. While the People’s Houses were mostly heterogeneous in form, the People’s Rooms were mostly regular and uniform with building plans provided by the RPP. Both the Houses and the Rooms were products of the Kemalist ideology of populism that were regarded as “places where citizens from every social group could discuss at ease all the nation’s problems, especially the cultural ones.” (Karpat, 1963) They were intended to be used as sites of where the intelligentsias and the common people would meet and bridge the gap between the urban and rural population. The outcome, however, showed otherwise.
As the People’s Houses and the People’s Rooms were established not based on the existing socio-cultural scene in the village, but rather an idealistic modern nation imagined and envisioned by the intelligentsias of the Republican’s Party, the activities organized by the institutions were met with resistance by the rural masses. Both the architecture and the activities in the Houses and the Rooms promoted the modernist ideals of the West. Frequently visited by the civil servants and their families, the common scene in the People’s Houses and Rooms was men and women, dressed in European style clothing, engaging in Western patterns of recreation and consumption. Cultural performances organized by the Houses such as concerts and plays were often of a Western classical repertoire. As the village had little exposure to Western culture, these activites were perceived as ‘alien’ and extraneous by the Turkish locals. Low participation by the rural masses had proved that the RPP had failed to extend its control to the social life of the village.
Social stratification between the city and the village was a result of the financial gap created by occupation and income differences and the intellectual gap created by the differences in mentality stemming from the secularist-modernist indoctrination of the cities. The People’s Houses and the People’s Rooms had failed to address the questionable authenticity of their activities and ideologies, further widening the gap that was originally intended to be bridged. The village was further pushed into its traditional isolation and poverty.
Ari, E., 2004. The People’s Houses and the Theatre in Turkey. Middle Eastern Studies, 40(4), pp.32–58.
Karaömerlioğlu, M.A., 1998. The people’s houses and the cult of the peasant in Turkey. Middle Eastern Studies, 34(4), pp.67–91.
Karpat, K. H., 1963. The People’s Houses in Turkey: Establishment and Growth. Middle East Journal, 17(1/2), pp. 55–67.
Karpat, K. H., 1974. The Impact of the People’s Houses On the Development of Communication in Turkey – 1931-1951. Die Welt des Islams, 15(1-4), pp.69–84.
Kezer, Z., 2015. Building modern Turkey : state, space, and ideology in the early republic.