Monsters That Remember: Tracing the Story of the Workers’ Monument in Tophane, İstanbul – Part III

Meltem Ahıska

The auratic tradition of Atatürk Monuments and the artificial-natural

Drawing on the previous section, I argue that the contemporary discussion about Turkey’s monuments that turn into monsters cannot be separated from the field of the state practice of erecting Atatürk monuments all over the country since the late 1920s. As Navaro-Yashin has argued, “statues of Atatürk, though dead stone, have a life for those who revere them” (2002: 198, emphasis mine). For Navaro-Yashin, “the Turkish state materializes in peoples’ (semi)consciousness in the figure of the person (man) of Atatürk in the objectified form of statue, bust, portrait, or badge” (Ibid).[37] I suggest that one can locate the history of the Workers’ Monument in Tophane exactly in this magical and mysterious, yet highly contested terrain.

The building of Atatürk monuments as a way of visualizing and immortalizing the new Turkish state started when Atatürk himself was still alive. Aylin Tekiner in her comprehensive study about Atatürk monuments has considered the construction of an Atatürk cult starting in the late 1920s as a key feature of Turkish nationalism. The image of Atatürk was sacralized and eternalized through various representations, including monuments. Although Atatürk[38] contributed to the building of the cult by attributing to himself certain unique characteristics (which later were replicated in the ideological texts of Kemalism),[39] and although he was in direct contact with the sculptors who created his first monumental representations and although he even made interventions concerning the content of representations,[40] it is noteworthy that Atatürk never personally attended the inauguration ceremonies of his own statues and monuments. Tekiner has interpreted this as a strategy of distancing his person from the monumental representations so that they will replace him and proliferate the “sacred” images of the regime (2010: 98-99). Atatürk must have been aware that monuments lead a life of their own, but it is not known whether he was ever uneasy about the fact that the concrete twins of his own body were already a distorted copy-a monster.

Erecting statues was a novelty for the new Turkish regime. The Ottomans did not approve of statues due to what is interpreted as an Islamic prohibition of figurative visual representations of living beings.[41] However, the prohibition is a debated issue in Islam;[42] furthermore, it is not particular to Islam, as there is also a biblical commandment that forbids the making of representative images. Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of why a “fabricated god” was forbidden in the Jewish as well as in various Christian traditions is of interest for reflecting on the monstrous character of monuments in modern times:

…the commandment forbids the making “of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” that is, of anything at all. Above all, however, it forbids the making of sculpted images (the insistence on sculpture and on sculpting is striking, in all the texts related to the biblical corpus as well as those in the Talmudic and Hassidic traditions). The commandment therefore concerns the production of forms that are solid, whole, and autonomous, as a statue is, and that are thus destined for use as an idol. The question here concerns idolatry and not the image as such or “representation.” The idol is a fabricated god, not the representation of one, and the contemptible and false character of its divinity derives from the fact that it is fabricated… What is condemned, therefore, is not that which is an ‘image of’ but rather that which asserts its presence only through itself, a pure presence in a certain sense, a massive presence that amounts to its being-there: the idol does not move, does not see, does not speak… and the idolater, facing the idol, also does not see and does not understandThus the idol is not condemned as imitation or copy, but rather in terms of its full and heavy presence, a presence of or within an immanence where nothing opens (eye, ear, or mouth) and from which nothing departs or withdraws (thought or word at the back of a throat or in the depths of a gaze) (2005: 30-31, emphases mine).

In the light of the above analysis, it is striking that the forbidden idol in religious tradition as the fabricated god can gain a legitimate ground, with modern states opting for the position of the fabricated god. I would say that the fabrication involves both “reason” and “affect.” If “modernity” is the realm of the former, nationalism with its religious overtones fuels the latter. The state poses itself as an artifact,[43] with idols that, in Nancy’s words, do not move, do not see, do not speak; in other words, the state is a non-living body. However, the state also mystically blows life into the artifact, appropriating the nation as an organic construct, with metaphors of community and family. Thus it eternalizes its being, by invoking the artificial-natural and commanding the idolater to have faith in the dead idol, as if it were alive. It is not surprising, then, when the Turkish state decided to erect Atatürk monuments as a way of propagating and personifying the ideals of the new regime, it made references both to “Western civilization” and nationalism, to both reason and unreason, at the same time in order to confront the disturbing problem of idolatry that derives from the traditional ban on figurative representations of living beings in Ottoman society.

On the one hand, erecting statues was justified by references to progress, as Atatürk and others formulated in various speeches and texts.[44] In this respect, Atatürk monuments were the symbols of progress and civilization.[45] On the other hand, Atatürk was shown as a semi-god,[46] due to the growing cult of Atatürk, which contributed to his monuments being regarded as equally sacred. However, in Atatürk monuments the constitutive source of the sacred was both outside and inside, both “rational” and “irrational.” In this curious combination of secular progress and sacredness, the performative command of the state has been shaped and put into practice in a way that evokes the formula of the artificial-natural, as one of the early ideologues in Turkey said: “The dead rule the living. This is an undeniable fact in the lives of every nation. But great events or great men cannot be considered dead. The nations build monuments in their name in order to keep them alive. They make them immortal through artworks” (cited in Tekiner, 2010: 58).

From the first Atatürk monument in 1926,[47] to this day, there are certain recurring themes that reveal the “fantastic” (in the way in which Ancet has defined it) aspects of state power. All these themes are related to a particular performance of power, as I have discussed above; yet, at the same time, contestation, opposition, or absurdity surround them.

One such theme is foreignness, reminding of Nancy’s depiction of the foreign god in connection to the idol.[48] The first Atatürk monuments were designed by invited foreign artists, either German or Italian, who not only introduced the know-how and technology of sculpture, but also, in that particular historical context, the features of a fascist aesthetics to Turkey. The foreignness of the artists soon led to the worry among the national elites that “they” could not really know and understand “our” national leader, hence “our” national values. For example, the Taksim Atatürk Monument (1928) by Canonica, an Italian artist, even inspired a poem by Mithat Cemal Kuntay,[49] expressing feelings of resentment. The poem is interesting in conveying the ambiguity of the living and dead aspects of the monument. It says: “Of course you, as everybody else, know who He is/But you cannot give voice to Him, He is ours/Is it possible to represent Him with these hands?/Anyway… tell me what is the material you used, stone or iron?”[50]

On the other hand, the entry of new and inexperienced Turkish sculptors into the field produced concerns about technical perfection.[51] There was a constant anxiety whether monuments looked like Atatürk, coupled with other anxieties in what positions or outfits to represent him.[52] The problem of resemblance triggered many debates about Atatürk monuments: governments canceled some projects before they were erected; others were removed; still others, with “erotic figures” such as nude males, were “emasculated”; or the monuments were “exiled” to other, less visible parts of the country since there was a concern that they did not represent the leader correctly.[53] One of the most interesting examples of this kind clearly demonstrates that Atatürk monuments were treated as artificial-natural entities. In Afyon, an Atatürk monument created by a non-professional sculptor and placed in front of the district governorate building in 1980 was highly disproportionate, with an enormous head and short legs. After 25 years, the “monstrous” statue was noticed by some “experts” who advised that it should be removed. However, since an Atatürk monument could not be destroyed according to custom and law, the only legitimate way to demolish it was to bury it under ground without giving it any harm (Tekiner, 2010).

The third theme is the instrumentalization of Atatürk monuments for the sake of power. Atatürk monuments were regarded as sacred in rhetoric, yet over time they were reproduced with apparent pragmatic interests only to signify and secure power. Despite the political conflicts regarding the heritage of Atatürk, each political party that came to power proclaimed its presence by erecting further Atatürk monuments.[54] This eventually led to an incredible proliferation in their number. Especially after the 1980s, with the help of mechanical reproduction of prototypes in factories, Atatürk monuments were standardized (thus eliminating the anxiety of resemblance) and put everywhere, with minor variations for the specific purpose, not only by the state, but also by various public or civil organizations.[55] Atatürk monuments were adapted to different and even quite remote themes. One of the most absurd examples is the Atatürk monument (1993) in front the Blind People’s Foundation Building in İstanbul, representing Atatürk holding a blind person’s cane.[56] This is an example that radically empties out the intended meaning.

The reception of these monuments also requires further reflection. On the one hand, Atatürk monuments were declared to be sacred and came to reference the ultimate and unchanging code of “modern” Turkey;[57] on the other hand, there are abundant examples that show how Atatürk monuments were attacked: they have been riddled with bullets and set on fire by different segments of society in different instances.[58] Some conservative intellectuals as well as many lay people refer to them as “Beton Mustafa” (Concrete Mustafa).[59] In an amusing anecdote,  villagers in the eastern parts of Turkey tell the minibus driver that they want to get off the bus at the concrete, meaning at the Atatürk monument. Against these resentful practices of denigration and destruction, there has been a special law since 1951, which protects Atatürk monuments.[60] The law deems that anyone who publicly insults the memory of Atatürk and/or in any way destroys statues, busts and monuments that represent him is to be severely penalized. Thus, what concerns us here is the oppressive norm that secures Atatürk monuments as the ultimate code of modern national life, while their meaning is already emptied out and dead in everyday life, as the popular word “concrete” denotes. Atatürk monuments increasingly appear as monsters, now that not only their number, but also their size is exaggerated.[61] Besides the increasing number of miniaturized images of Atatürk adapted to commercial purposes (Özyürek, 2006), projects for bigger and bigger Atatürk monuments compete in every part of the country, leaving little space for discussing the relationship between artwork, the public space, and the so-called “people.”

The fate of “civil” monuments: The history and memory of the Workers’ Monument

Contrary to the dominant trend of filling public spaces with an ever-increasing number of Atatürk monuments,[62] on the fiftieth anniversary of the republic in 1973, the CHP, a center-left party then in power, decided to erect particularly in İstanbul “civil statues and monuments” for the first time. Twenty statues were commissioned from different sculptors of Turkey, giving them autonomy to choose their subjects, to be approved by the selecting committee.[63] One of these turned out to be the Workers’ Monument.[64] Actually, to build a Workers’ Monument was the idea of Vedat Nedim Tör, one of the oldest surviving Kemalist cultural elites from the first years of the republic and, interestingly, an apostate communist.[65] His idea was to build a Workers’ Monument dedicated to the Turkish workers who were being sent to Germany since 1961, their number having reached 865,000 already in 1973. The monument was to be placed just across from the Public Labor Employment Office, which functioned as the German Liaison Office in Tophane and which had an infamous reputation for the humiliating medical examinations of the worker candidates by German doctors.[66] The artist Muzaffer Ertoran, based in the Academy of Fine Arts, located also very close to Tophane, had already worked on a model of a workers’ statue, and so he was commissioned for the work. Soon after the monument was erected, the first attacks began. First the fingers, then the sledgehammer, then the arm was broken; the face was covered with tar, and finally the face was completely destroyed. The artist repaired the monument several times, but the attacks were insistent, and after a while it was left to stand in that crippled way to be further worn down by environmental conditions. The artist Muzaffer Ertoran has said in an interview: “I fixed it a few times. But now, I’ve let it go. For years, they have been breaking a piece off it every day. Yet, it’s still not all consumed. When a machine comes and rips it off the ground, I will say: ‘Oh, finally, it’s been depleted'” (cited in Akagündüz, 2011: 177). It is as if the statue could neither live, nor completely die. Ertoran’s words obviously remind one of threatening monstrosity in between the living and the non-living.

We must note that out of the twenty statues and monuments built in 1973, only eight survive today,[67] since others also had their share of destruction by “the people,” or since they were removed or destroyed by local authorities for different reasons. At this point, I find it important to re-emphasize the connection between the obsessively erected Atatürk monuments in Turkey under the protection of the law that criminalizes their destruction and the many cases of destruction of “civil” statues and monuments in public space, mostly regarded as permissible. These are two faces of the same coin, of the productive and destructive capacities of power that I have discussed above. Akin to theories that refuse to treat the state and society as two independent entities,[68] I would say that the interdependent official/civil binary structured within the performative command of the state produces the ground for deciding which monuments are allowed to survive and which are left to perish.

Some would see the problem of monuments in Turkey merely as an aesthetic question.[69] It is indeed an aesthetic question, if we do not take aesthetics as separate from politics. Ranciere has argued that the relational character of politics and aesthetics concerns the reconfiguration of a different regime of perception and signification, a new “distribution of the sensible” and “political subjectivation” (2009). For Ranciere, the process of political subjectivation consists in “the action of uncounted capacities that crack open the unity of the given and the obviousness of the visible, in order to sketch a new topography of the visible” (2009: 49). Ranciere’s emphasis on a different regime of perception is closely connected to the question of monsters, if, as Ancet has said, the subject who looks and classifies the anomaly is rather central to the definition of the monster. Then it is highly problematic that many opinion leaders in Turkey reproduce the hegemonic normative aesthetic and political judgments to assess the question of monuments that turn into monsters. For example, many would say that the actual and potential vandalizing of monuments is a symptom of “underdevelopment” or “lack of modernity,” blaming the state for indifference against art and/or the people for being uncivilized and under the influence of Islamic traditions. Even Murat Akagündüz from the Hafriyat group, which attempted to make the Workers’ Monument visible, has pointed to a “skewed process of modernization” (2011: 172).[70] In a different vein, Uğur Tanyeli has argued that neither Islamic values nor an aesthetic problem related to “untalented sculptors” can explain the “problem” of statues and monuments. For him, the problem is the persistence of a “traditional” conception of the public sphere in Turkey; public only signifies belonging to the state, and only statues that are deemed sacred to the state are made visible in and for the public.[71] While Tanyeli’s problematization of the public sphere in relation to the state is meaningful, his reference to a lack of a “bourgeois public sphere” (in Habermasian terms) in Turkey cannot avoid replicating the problematic normative judgment about (Western) modernity and its others. When looked at from the vestige point of the norm, the other cannot but seem monstrous. Thus, instead of replicating normativity and consequently re-producing monstrosity, I have emphasized the need to historically trace the destructive and productive capacities of state power and argued that the monuments that turn into monsters are to be seen as symptoms of the performative command of the state that displaces or destroys the memories and capacities of lived experience, particularly those that belong to what is homogeneously referred to as “the people.” This is a political and aesthetic question at the same time.

So far, we have been speaking of monsters. But they also speak; they are not mute. They speak in their own ways, which is mostly threatening to the “normal.” Their ambiguity goes against the closure of normativity as standardization, as Shildrick has said about monsters (1999: 79). In that sense, monsters are witnesses to the catastrophe of modern history and have their own memories. Their forbidden shadows fall on the official and oppressive versions of history, making it once more contestable from within. When the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan called the Humanity Monument on the Armenian border a monster, he said: “We will not let this monster cast a shadow on our history.”[72] When he said “history,” he seemed to point to the historical Islamic treasures of Kars. But his words can easily be interpreted in the context of the official denial of the memories of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey.[73] Etyen Mahçupyan has made an important intervention in this respect, opposing the way in which the question of the “monstrous statue” has been discussed in the mainstream media which mainly focus on freedom of expression and public art in Turkey. Mahçupyan has rightly claimed that the government’s judgment about the Humanity Monument is of specifically political, rather than of a general aesthetic concern; it should be read as a clue that the state aims to destroy the political messages of the statue about Turkish-Armenian relations.[74] Now that the gigantic Humanity Monument is being sliced into pieces to be carried away, it constitutes yet another violent moment in the national history of Turkey.[75]

Conclusion: Representation and counter-memory

In the concluding part of the article, I will briefly comment on art in relation to the memory of monsters. Let us go back to Tophane, from where we started. In the art venues in Tophane, critical art now increasingly finds space. Many of the critical and political artworks aim to make visible repressed historical and contemporary issues in Turkey (such as the violations of human rights, the war against the Kurdish people, and the Armenian genocide) and to deconstruct the narratives and icons of official national history. Thus, it is not uncommon that there are also works critical of the idol of Atatürk.[76] An artwork by Extramücadele,[77] exhibited in Tophane at the Non Gallery, showed Atatürk as a fallen angel, when the violent attacks against the visiting crowd in front of the galleries occurred in September 2010. A year later, in the art space Depo, again in Tophane, the artist Vahit Tuna showed an interesting statue that created the automatic effect of an Atatürk bust in a school garden from afar, but in fact it was a bust of Anthony Hopkins,[78] playing with the anxiety of resemblance that I have mentioned above. Both works critically deal with the power effects of Atatürk monuments. The seemingly conservative and religious people of Tophane, on the other hand, have shown either outright hostility or, at best, indifference to the examples of critical art in their district. However, if we re-visit the artistic intervention of the artist collective Hafriyat, which tried to steal the broken Workers’ Monument, we are confronted with the enigma that the people re-claimed their monstrous monument. Murat Akagündüz, a Hafriyat member whom I interviewed, has said that this was not really the outcome that they expected. They considered possible problems with the authorities, such as the police, but not with the people. Many people from the neighborhood that night told the artists that they had lots of memories surrounding this “stone,” without actually naming it. In their childhood they used to play on top of it; they grew up with it. Children still play around it, without being aware that it once was a monument. And they would not want to give it away. They embraced the object in a spiritual way, in Akagündüz’s words.[79] Pelin Tan has also commented on the incident that night, saying that

…the residents of Tophane, who generally spend their days in the park playing football, organizing neighborhood activities, drinking coffee and tea, and selling odds and ends, suddenly became aware of the old Worker statue. As Hafriyat was trying to remove the sculpture, people sought to understand why the action was happening, and most residents responded that the sculpture (which they did not want to call by its title, as speaking of a Worker would imply a reference to leftist ideology) had emotional meaning for them (2011: 149-50).

On the other hand, the vice-president of the municipality who was accidentally there that night was only concerned whether the artist group had official permission to remove the statue.[80]

One needs to think further about the emotional meaning that the broken Workers’ Monument has for the residents of Tophane. It is obvious that it has nothing to do with the intended or publicly attributed meanings of the monument. The residents of Tophane even refrained from saying its name. This “stone” is something that belongs to them, even though it may be a monster. However, one should be wary of rushed alternative explanations. The possible meanings that the locals may be attributing to the “stone” are not actually representable within the dominant “distribution of the sensible” today. The non-representability points to a void in the locality, which the ongoing economic, social and cultural transformations attempt to cover up with polished facades. Nevertheless, one should not give up the struggle for interpretation as a way of producing and re-producing the locality: “In an age in which globalization produces new forms of locality that still have to find a vision of another future than that offered by neoliberalism, market ideology, and media triumphalism, memory of past hopes, after all, remains part of any imagination of another future” (Huyssen, 2003: 105). Thus, we can dwell on possible meanings as a starting point for a different engagement with the locality. It is possible that the locals of Tophane may be embracing the “stone” for strengthening their ties with the place, especially with the fear of displacement evoked by the recent transformations in the neighborhood. They have their own discreet memories around this deformed stone body, and they probably recognize themselves in its process of destruction, as people who have been muted and who have no means of representing themselves other than in hegemonic idioms, mostly as delegated agents of violent practices of power within the performative command of the state. These, and many other questions not yet formulated, remain to be substantiated through the fractured memories and experiences of the locals.

Yet, the Workers’ Monument as a monster continues to remember. It bears the memories of the artist who constructed it; of the workers who went to Germany only to be classified as second-class guest workers there; of the socialists who took the Workers’ Monument as a token of their struggle, mostly forgotten and buried in the past now. It points to the violent memories of urban transformation, which displaced large segments of non-Muslim minorities from Tophane during the 1950s and now threatens to displace the once-newcomer migrants, too. It points to the memories of having to live in fear of the state which Atatürk monuments signify  for many people in Turkey. It also points to the very displacement and destruction of memories. It is but a frail witness to the past under the threat of extinction. It is a symptom of its own processes of destruction, displacement and excess, which turn the remains of the Workers’ Monument into a counter-monument. It is a counter-monument because it cannot in any way commemorate the past or celebrate the present. It cannot console its viewers, either about the workers’ situation, or about the civilized modern status of Turkey. Instead, it troublingly points to the frailty of life and memory in the face of the power of the dead and deadening body of the state. Yet, it is also a frail source of hope if we hear Derrida, when he says: “a future that would not be monstrous would not be a future; it would be already a predictable, calculable, and programmable tomorrow. All experience open to the future is prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant” (1995: 307).


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[37] Esra Özyürek has also discussed Atatürk monuments in relation to the production of state effects (2006: 95).

[38] By taking the surname Atatürk, meaning Father-Turk, Mustafa Kemal already designated himself as the procreator of the Turkish nation.

[39] In a long speech he gave in 1927, known as Nutuk, Atatürk produced the constitutive narrative of the nation, in which he positioned himself with attributes such as the savior, protector, constructor, educator, mentor, guardian, leader, and father of the nation (Parla, 1994: 167-168)

[40] Atatürk posed as a model for foreign artists such as Krippell and Canonica and suggested several figures to be included in the monuments. For example, for the Taksim Republic Monument, he demanded that the images of General Vorosilov of the Soviet Red Army and of the Ukrainian General Frunze be included, since they had shown their support for the new Turkish Republic through their visits to Turkey (Tekiner, 2010: 98).

[41] Tekiner has given a detailed account of how in the nineteenth century figurative sculpture, including a few statues, entered Ottoman society, yet created conflicts due to the Islamic ban on figurative visual representations. Especially three-dimensional statues were banned because they were considered coming closest to icons, as their shadows fall on the ground. Thus, while paintings and photographs eventually found their way into Ottoman society in the nineteenth century, commissioning a statue, as a representation with a shadow, remained highly problematic until the founding of the new Turkish Republic (2010: 32).

[42] Köksal Çiftçi, who has written on the problem of painting and sculpture in monotheistic religions, claims that there is only one verse of the Koran that can be interpreted in that way, but when examined more closely one can see that the verse only prohibits idolatry and not painting and sculpture as art. Çiftçi also examines the hadith of the Prophet Mohammad in that framework and comes to the conclusion that the prohibition does not exist in the religious sources, but only in practice, historically starting from the Abbasid Empire in 750 (2008). Ahmad Mohammad Issa has similarly argued based on a close examination of Islamic sources that the prohibition does not derive either from the Koran or the hadith (1996). According to Jean-Luc Nancy, although there is a prohibition of representation in the Islamic tradition, ” it should be pointed out that the commandment as such does not figure in the Koran but has been extrapolated out of it through interpretation” (2005: 30). It is interesting to see how popular Islamic authorities interpret the prohibition today. According to a popular Turkish Islamic website, the prohibition concerns only humans and animals, which are considered living beings with souls, while trees, mountains and other organic or non-organic things in the world are left out of the scope of the Islamic ban on figurative representation. Particularly, a representation is prohibited to have a shadow on the ground, as a living being does. The website deems that photographs are acceptable since they are not to be seen as representation, but as a direct physical emulation of an object.

[43] Margaret Sommers has interestingly argued that the “modern” state has been categorized as “artificial” in a binary relation to the naturalized existence of society predating the state, as assumed in liberal theories (1999).

[44] For example, Atatürk said: “our nation which is enlightened and religious will develop sculpture to the highest level, which is one of the beneficiaries of progress, and every part of our country will proclaim the memories of our ancestors, and of our children who will live in the future, with beautiful statues” (1959: 66-7). Tekiner has added that, although Atatürk mentioned ancestors as subjects for statues, during his lifetime there were no monuments erected other than those of Atatürk, except for the Unknown Soldier Monument (Meçhul Asker Anıtı, 1925) and the Martyr Kubilay Monument (Şehit Kubilay Anıtı, 1932).

[45] The first Atatürk monument in 1926 set the architectural and symbolic blueprint for later monuments. It is noteworthy that in this monument Atatürk faces Anatolia with his right fist raised towards Europe, representing the position of the new Turkish Republic between Turkish culture and Western civilization, the East and the West. I have written on the boundary management of East and West in Turkey under the concept of Occidentalism (Ahıska, 2010).

[46] Atatürk was often referred to as a divine being, sometimes compared to a prophet in many ideological and literary texts. The religious imagery employed to describe his persona points to the appropriation of religion for nationalistic ends, as Yael Navaro-Yashin has discussed to refute the binary of religion/secularism in Turkish nationalism (2002). Esra Özyürek has cited the words of Nezihe Araz, a devoted Kemalist writer, to discuss the godly power of Atatürk: “For the first generation of the republic, Atatürk was not a human but almost a god from Olympus. He was an abstract concept, a godly power that could make the impossible possible and perform miracles. Even if people saw him on the roads of Ankara, in his car, in the National Assembly, and sometimes in schools, sport arenas, horse races, they actually could not perceive him” (2006: 109).

[47] The first Atatürk monument was built by Heinrich Krippel and placed in Sarayburnu, İstanbul. It is interesting that İstanbul was chosen as the site for the first Atatürk monument, because in early national history Ankara as the newly built capital city of the Republic was opposed to İstanbul as a place that symbolized the old decadent regime. Tekiner has interpreted this as part of symbolic warfare against the opponents of the new regime in İstanbul (2010: 70-71). It can also be interpreted as a way of re-possessing Istanbul and re-claiming the monumentality of the Sublime Port of the Ottoman Empire.

[48] Nancy has noted that the word elila is one word used for “idol” in the Book of Exodus, which designates a “‘small divinity, false god,’ again ‘foreign god'” (2005: 145, n. 10).

[49] Mithat Cemal Kuntay was a writer who lived in the late Ottoman and early Republican periods and is known for his rhetorical nationalist poems. His only novel, Üç İstanbul, was adapted for a TV series in 1983.

[50] “Elbette bilirsin O’nu herkes gibi kimdir,/Lakin O’nu sen anlatamazsın O, bizimdir./Bilmem ki bu ellerle O temsil edilir mi?/Her neyse… Nedir malzemen taş mı, demir mi?” (cited in Tekiner, 2010: 103) The famous poet Ahmet Haşim also criticized the first Atatürk monument: “What more can be said about this pile of bronze?” (cited in Tekiner, 2010: 73).

[51] The first Turkish sculptor who created an Atatürk Monument was Kenan Yontunç who personally worked with Atatürk as a model. However, his statues of Atatürk were criticized for being non-proportional and showing him older and weaker (Tekiner, 2010: 114).

[52] Although Atatürk presented himself to society not as a military commander, but as a civil leader in Western dress after the foundation of the Republic, the majority of his early monuments show him in military uniform, and in several he is riding a horse (Tekiner, 2010: 75). However, there were also other aesthetic attempts to idealize his persona. In the 1935 monument in front of the Kayseri Textile Factory, Atatürk is presented naked with the idealized muscular body of a worker turning a wheel. In the Afyon Victory Monument (1936), he was also represented naked, emphasizing the fierce and disciplined body of the leader. The codes of representation-such as the body gestures, the outfits and the symbolic accessories to be included in the monuments-have continued to be a matter of debate in Turkey. Particularly the problem of resemblance led to controversies as in the case of the smiling Atatürk monument in Sincan in 1998 (Tekiner, 2010).

[53] There are many examples of controversial Atatürk monuments in Turkish history. For example, the Atatürk monument in Samsun (1982) was removed in the same year in which it was erected, by order of the military dictator Kenan Evren, since the monument contained several naked male and female figures. The monument was kept in a storehouse for eighteen years and then restored to its place in 2000. The Malatya Atatürk Monument (1947) contained a naked male figure, which was later emasculated by vandals, and a leaf was placed over the genital area when a minister came to visit the town. For the details of this amusing story, see Yasemin Özcan Kaya, http:/

[54] The way in which Atatürk monuments are used for pragmatic ends found its first examples during the Democratic Party era in the 1950s. Although highly critical of the previous CHP regime, and although they made ample use of religious icons, the Democratic Party strategically embraced the heritage of erecting Atatürk Monuments as a token of power (Tekiner, 2010: 161). Later, Atatürk monuments became a mere symbol for Turkish nationalism and were employed to signify power. For example, a member of the “Turkish resistance organization” in Cyprus has narrated how they erected the first Atatürk monument in Lefkoşa (Nicosia) in 1962 and guarded it day and night (Hürriyet, 15 August 2010). During the so-called “Cyprus Peace Operation” in 1974, Atatürk monuments were erected in the “conquered” areas by the intervening Turkish forces. It is common knowledge that after each military coup in Turkey, in 1960, 1971, and 1980, a new wave of erecting more Atatürk monuments came. Especially after the 1980 coup, there was a mushrooming of Atatürk monuments all over the country, which Tekiner has named “statuomania” (2010).

[55] According to Esra Özyürek, there was an “exponential increase in the already ubiquitous images of Atatürk” in the late 1990s. It seems that there was an “appropriate picture of Atatürk for every trade” (2006: 93). Özyürek has discussed how the images also vary in their form and content. As opposed to his “fierce looks” in the pictures and monuments of the earlier decades, now Atatürk images depict a “jovial bourgeois” who enjoys life; the images are deployed in various media ranging from T-shirts to mugs, from badges to stickers, as well as being utilized in advertisements. According to Özyürek, the popularization and also miniaturization of the images of Atatürk point to important social and political transformations. First of all, in the 1990s, there emerged increasingly pervasive competing images of Islam, and Kemalism became a personalized attitude and responsibility in the privatized public realm. There was also a growing commercialization in society, which equally affected the Atatürk cult; in the 1990s, there emerged a different kind of Atatürk’s gaze. Özyürek’s contention is that the state ideal was being transformed into a new understanding of governmentality. While the monumental images could be seen as a metaphor for the abstract authority of the state and the collective, public life, the miniature images belong to the interior space and time of the bourgeois subject (Özyürek, 2006: 102-103).

[56] Tekiner has provided the image of this strange Atatürk monument in her book (2010: 226). She has also cited other absurd examples with regard to the use of the Atatürk cult, such as the placement of a passage from the Nutuk that metaphorically talks about fire (“Big fires are set by little sparks”) on the facade of a fire station (2010: 192).

[57] There are even legal frameworks that are still valid and determine how Atatürk busts and pictures are to be placed in schools and public buildings. For example, according to the official guide for the inspection of primary schools in 2009-2010, there must be an Atatürk bust in the garden of the school; it should be regularly cleaned and cared for. Inside the classrooms, the Atatürk picture should be placed above the writing board, above which the Turkish flag should be hung. The lyrics of the national anthem should be placed to the right of the picture, while Atatürk’s address to the youth, from the Nutuk, should be placed to its left.…/112-resmi-ilkogretim-okullari-teftis-rehberi-.html

[58] The first recorded attacks against Atatürk monuments occurred in the early 1950s, when the Democratic Party came to power. The destruction of Atatürk busts and monuments by some religious sects was considered a “scandal” and led to the enactment of the law about the protection of Atatürk monuments. However, attacks continued over the years. Nowadays, it is common to read once in a while a news item about different kinds of attacks against Atatürk monuments, such as painting, burning, shooting or breaking off parts, in different cities and towns of Turkey. Some of these attacks transmit messages of political protest, while others seem without a particular reason. In most cases, absurdity reigns again due to the blurring of the boundaries between what is alive and what is dead. For example, in Bingöl, a man in an economic and psychological crisis climbed up an Atatürk monument with a gun in hand and threatened the authorities that he would shoot Atatürk if they came near him. In Denizli, a fourteen-year-old boy was arrested because he broke parts off an Atatürk monument by throwing stones; he defended himself by saying that he and his friends were curious to know if the Atatürk monument was alive. Yıldıray Oğur, “Türk’ün Atatürk heykelleriyle imtihanı,” Taraf, 16 January 2011. Cihan Tuğal has also cited how Atatürk monuments have became targets in radical Islamic protests in Turkey (2009).

[59] The phrase is used in informal conversations with reference to Atatürk statues and monuments, and is familiar to many people in Turkey. Ahmet Turan Alkan, in an article praising Atatürk, remembers the days in his childhood when he first heard the phrase “Beton Mustafa” and complains how the image of Atatürk propagated in official circles (such as in schools) and the one evoked in informal dialogue contradict each other. “Atatürk Asıl Şimdi,” Truva Gezi Dergisi, December 2008.

[60] The first article of the legal code accepted in 1951, which is still valid, reads: “anyone who defames and curses against the memory of Atatürk will be sentenced to one to three years of heavy imprisonment. Those who ruin, break, mutilate or defile a statue, bust or monument that represents Atatürk or those who ruin, break, mutilate or defile his tomb will be sentenced to one to five years of heavy imprisonment. If anyone abets a person committing the above-mentioned crimes, he will be penalized in the same way as the perpetrator.” In negotiations with Turkey, the European Union has been critical of this code, along with others, as an obstacle to freedom of expression, which in turn has incited a nationalist defensive attitude.

[61] “The 1980 military junta was very successful at covering national time-space with giant representations of Atatürk. In addition to naming all major physical projects for Atatürk, including the largest dams, bridges, and airports, it also covered the mountain slopes with his picture. In 1982, the junta made a mountain portrait of Atatürk in Erzincan, which covered a 7.5-square-kilometer area. The choice of a mountain slope as a canvas for Atatürk’s portrait is symbolically meaningful; it establishes an iconical relationship with the leader and the mountains, implying that the leader and the state he founded are as old and as stable as the mountains. Moreover, through his location on mountaintops, Atatürk is seen as above and beyond ordinary human beings. Even today the Turkish army covers mountain slopes with giant pictures and phrases of Atatürk such as ‘Happy is the one who says I am a Turk.’ The production of such paintings increases at times of political crisis, and the images especially abound in the Kurdish regions of the country” (Özyürek, 2006: 103). The Atatürk, Republic, and Democracy Monument (1999) in Beşiktaş, İstanbul, which is 35 meters high; the Turkish Revolutionaries and Atatürk Monument in Manisa, which is 65 meters high and the third-biggest monument in the world; and the Atatürk Relief/Mask in Buca, carved onto a mountain slope, are some striking examples of gigantic Atatürk monuments.

[62] It is curious that the dominant type of “civil” statues in Turkey is those of local products and specialties in every small city and town, such as the sculpture of a melon in Kırkağaç, a watermelon in Diyarbakır, a meatball in İnegöl, cats in Van, an eau-de-cologne bottle in Balıkesir, a colchicum plant in Safranbolu, a corncob in Alibeyköy, pistachios in Siirt, a lemon in Erdemli, grapes in Nevşehir, and so on. In İzmir, one of the largest cities of Turkey, the statue of a highway must be a contemporary extension of this “tradition.” This amusing trend, although mocked in everyday conversations, has not attracted any scholarly attention to this day and deserves further research in my view. The statues of “specialties” can be interpreted as euphemistic replacements of political conflicts and the erasure of contested histories in different localities.

[63] These were “Beautiful Istabul” (Güzel İstanbul) by Gürdal Duyar, “Worker” (İşçi) by Muzaffer Ertoran, “Architect Sinan” (Mimar Sinan) by Nusret Suman, “Two of Us” (İkimiz) by Namık Denizhan, “Unity” (Birlik) by Mehmet Uyanık, “Rise” (Yükseliş) by Bihrat Mavitan, “Rain” (Yağmur) by Ferit Özşen, “Abstract Compositon” (Soyut Kompozisyonu) by Füsun Onur, a statue by Seyhun Topuz, “Abstract Statue” (Soyut Heykel) by Tamer Başoğlu, “Abstract Statue” (Soyut Heykel) by Yavuz Görey, “Abstract Staute” (Soyut Heykel) by Metin Haseki, “Naked” (Çıplak) by Kamil Sonad, “Figure” (Figür) by Zerrin Bölükbaşı, “Abstract Statue” (Soyut Heykel) by Ali Teoman Germaner, “Solidarity” (Dayanışma) by Zühtü Müridoğlu, “Echo” (Yankı) by Hüseyin Anka Özkan, “Abstract Statue” (Soyut Heykel) by Kuzgun Acar, and “Spring” (Bahar) by Hakkı Karayiğitoğlu (Tekiner, 2010: 182).

[64] Murat Akagündüz from the Hafriyat artist collective has described the statues ordered in 1973 as the first “non-monumental” statues in the history of public art in Turkey (2011: 172). I agree that for many of these works the description may hold true, yet I think the Workers’ Monument is monumental both in its style and in its intended meaning: it is within a certain convention of representing workers, very similar to the style of socialist realism starting in the 1930s in “communist” countries, and with the deliberate monumental aim to commemorate the workers being sent to Germany. Therefore, I prefer to call it the Workers’ Monument rather than “Worker Statue,” as Akagündüz refers to it.

[65] Vedat Nedim Tör was a member of the illegal Turkish Communist Party and also temporarily acted as the head of the Turkish Worker and Peasant Socialist Party (Türkiye İşçi Çiftçi Sosyalist Fırkası) in the 1920s. After leaving the party, he purportedly submitted all party documents to the government and testified against the communists in the infamous Communist Arrests in 1927, for which his former comrades blamed him as traitor. Later, Vedat Nedim Tör worked in different government organizations, including the radio. He wrote books and published journals. He also served as a cultural consultant for Yapı Kredi Bank and then for Akbank before his death in 1985.

[66] John Berger and Jean Mohr’s book A Seventh Man (1982) gives a very important account of the workers sent from Turkey to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, with striking photographs of workers being subjected to humiliating procedures. There are now suggestions that the Public Labor Employment Office building should be converted into an Immigration Museum and that the Workers’ Monument should be repaired (Doğan Hızlan, “Göç Müzesi Kurulmalı,” Hürriyet, 4 December 2007).

[67] “Naked” in Gülhane Park, “Figure” in Harbiye, “Abstract Statue” in Bebek Park, “Solidarity” in Fındıklı Park, “Echo” in Gümüşsuyu Park, “Abstract Statue” in Gülhane Park, and “Spring” are the surviving statues, and one may add to them the “Worker” in Tophane Park, although severely damaged, and “Beautiful İstanbul” which has been moved from one place to another over the years (Tekiner, 2010: 182).

[68] Trouillot, citing the significance of Gramsci and Poulantzas’s elaborate conceptualizations of the state, has said: “one cannot theorize the state and then theorize society or vice versa. Rather, state and society are bound by the historical bloc which takes the form of the specific social contract of-and, thus, the hegemony deployed in-a particular social formation” (2001: 127). Navaro-Yashin has particularly dwelt on the false binary of the state and society in Turkey to provide an anthropology of the Turkish state through different moments of its materialization in society (2002).

[69] Emre Aköz, a well-known columnist writing on the issue of the “monstrous” Humanity Monument, has complained that there are very many monstrous statues in this country, including Atatürk monuments; he does not want to see them around and instead personally prefers the statues of Giacometti, Brancusi, and Henry Moore. “Ucube Heykellerle Dolu Bu Memleket,” Sabah, 14 January 2011. Mümtaz Türköne has similarly proposed that Atatürk monuments are “monstrous” and regarded the problem as an aesthetic one: “It is true that our culture and tradition keeps us away from sculpture. But this distance cannot be an excuse for the lack of aesthetics of the statues interspersed throughout this country.” Taraf, 14 January 2011.

[70] Akagündüz has said: “Despite the scope of the dramatic relationship social perception forms with contemporary art and its object, it may be argued that the evolution of the perception of sculpture from Islamic thought-where the statue is regarded as idolatrous, as the shadow it casts on the ground is considered as figuration-to monumental statues is a step forward towards modernization. Yet at the same time, the fact that attacks on civil sculptures continue to be regarded as natural casts a rather telling light on the direction of this step forward in a skewed process of modernization” (2011: 172).

[71] From his presentation entitled “Statues in the Public Sphere,” delivered at the symposium on statues in the İstanbul Modern Museum, 25 April 2006.

[72] Cited by Etyen Mahçupyan, “Gerçekliğin Kaypaklığı Üzerine,” Zaman, 26 Ocak 2011.

[73] Turkey officially denies that the “so-called Armenian Genocide” happened in 1915 and fiercely defends its stand both in international diplomatic relations and against critical historical statements about the issue. However, the question of the Armenian Genocide has become a much more visible, albeit highly contested, subject within Turkey in the last decade. The conference organized by Boğaziçi, Bilgi, and Sabancı Universities in September 2005 in İstanbul, entitled “Ottoman Armenians during the Decline of the Empire,” was one of the first attempts to historicize the question. The Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s assassination in 2007 was also a turning point, paving the way for further debates, exhibitions, conferences, and publications of both academic research and memoirs pertaining to the tragic events-the massacres, deportation, and exile of Armenians at the beginning of the twentieth century.

[74] “Gerçekliğin Kaypaklığı Üzerine,” Zaman, 26 January 2011. For another article commenting on the connection between the demolition of the monument and Turkish-Armenian relations, see Markar Esayan, “Özet: Aliyev İstedi, Erdoğan Yıktırdı,” Taraf, 1 May 2011.

[75] The sculptor Mehmet Aksoy claimed that it would be extremely difficult to demolish this gigantic monument and that it would take years during which possible national and international reactions should be able to stop the demolition. However, after the affirmative decision of the municipal council of Kars, the demolition plan was announced. The 300-ton monument would be sliced into 18 pieces and kept in a storehouse. The demolition started with the head of the monument being cut off on 25 April 2011, ironically one day after 24 April, which is commemorated as the day when the Armenian Genocide started in Turkey in 1915. Just before this article was to be submitted, there were news in the media that the Kars Municipality had decided to build a statue of a Kaşar Cheese and Honey (as specialties of the town) in the place of the demolished Humanity Monument, once again affirming the euphemistic attitude that simultaneously produces and denies violence. See note 62.

[76] The Hafriyat art collective opened an exhibition of posters in its Karaköy venue, with the title Allah Korkusu (The Fear of God) on November 10, 2007. Some of the posters exhibited there drew fierce reactions from the media, and consequently an official investigation was opened especially about three posters, one of them showing Atatürk with a blank face. The poster designed by Hakan Akçura was referring to the taboo of portraying the image of the Prophet Muhammad in Islam and implying the divinity ascribed to Atatürk, as well as Kemalism as a way of worshipping in Turkey. More recently, an exhibition in Beşiktaş Plaza organized by the Bimeras Culture Foundation was attacked by several members of the CHP, since it showed an icon of Atatürk in addition to icons of the three major religions in the world, again implying that the worshipping of Atatürk is a religion. Yasin Aktay has discussed the exhibit and the reactions, which have been compared to the attacks in Tophane. “Tophane ile Beşiktaş’ın Arası,” Yeni Şafak, 18 October 2010.

[77] Ekstramücadele, which means “extra struggle,” is the name that the artist Mehmed Erdener publicly uses when he exhibits his critical and mostly controversial artwork.

[78] Esra Özyürek has discussed the taboo of portraying Atatürk, very similar to the taboo of representing the Prophet Muhammed. For this reason, it was not possible for any actor to play Atatürk in film for a long time. “But the taboo was first broken in 1981 when a movie about his life was released for his one hundredth birth anniversary. It is significant that the first actor to portray Atatürk was not Turkish but Belgian… at the end of the 1980s, Turkish actors started to play Atatürk in movies, and by the late 1990s, there were almost no limits on who might perform as Atatürk” (2006: 111). Vahit Tuna’s work, which is part of his exhibition at Depo, entitled Hep Seyirciyiz Zaten… (We Are Just Spectators Anyway…) makes reference to this anxiety by evoking the figure of Anthony Hopkins, who was one of the candidates to portray Atatürk in a film in the 1990s. See Pınar Öğünç, “Bir Atatürk Büstünün Arkeolojisi,” Radikal, 17 January 2011.

[79] Interview with Murat Akagündüz, February 2011.

[80] Interview with Murat Akagündüz, February 2011