Translated from Turkish by Translators for Justice
The History Foundation has always been the witness, victim and follower of one phenomenon: history in Turkey is an area of exploitation, particularly by politicians; a situation that has intensified in recent times. The government’s policies on historical sites have become even more tangible with the Military Barracks in Taksim, the most striking of these policies. However, our hopes are raised by the campaign against this project, carried out for months by the citizens of Istanbul through various platforms.Decisions that go against any principle of urban management and planning are being taken and implemented in Taksim, the heart of Istanbul. This and other similar projects, such as the Golden Horn Metro Bridge or the Third Bosphorus Bridge gave no regard to urban rights. For this reason, the people of Istanbul had no other choice but to take to the streets in order to claim their rights. We condemn the police violence that has been carried out for days and the merciless attempts to suppress those who have been peacefully showing their opposition to these projects.
History is not just a pile of events from the past that can be used by those in power in any way they choose, but a coherent flow from the past that also encompasses the present. From this point of view, Taksim Square and all other urban areas can be seen as the city’s collective and historical memory. It is for this reason that Taksim Square and the surrounding area is, in terms of urban and collective memory and social history, a part of our cultural heritage that needs to be protected. In recent days, the meaning of the area in these fields continues with increased importance, with new and important testimonials to historic events.
The History Foundation is firmly opposed to the construction of “physical replicas” that disregard urban rights and memory; just as we are opposed to the reconstruction, or the supposed reconstruction, of the Military Barracks, we are also opposed to attempts to make the project more acceptable through suggestions of giving it the function of a ‘city museum’. With the information and experience gathered in work over the past decade on urban museums and the Istanbul Museum, with the books we have published, the international exhibitions we have held, the publication of the Istanbul Encyclopedia and the Istanbul Journal, the History Foundation is better qualified than any other institution in the country to know how the Istanbul City Museum should be established. Based on this knowledge and experience, we believe that housing this museum within a replica construction – this museum that will bear witness to social and urban history, that will document the present and open new debates about the future of the city – goes against the entire spirit of the issue.
We also would like to draw attention to certain steps that must be taken immediately.
The government and the state must take immediate steps to ensure that decision-making mechanisms regarding cities and the public spaces within them are more transparent and they must pave the way for a more participatory understanding of governance. The misuse of history as an instrument in an ideological struggle must be stopped and the redevelopment of historical sites according to ideological plans must be avoided at all costs.