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Declare May 29 Ottoman Day

My last article on the May 29, the Day of Conquest celebrations, was in 2006. During the 556th year of Istanbul’s conquest, two permanent blows were made on the cosmopolitan mentality symbolized by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror.

So, it was a duty this year again to write something on this bizarre commemoration day. First, the Sulukule district has been erased although the neighborhood was legacy of Sultan Mehmed II, and Sulukule residents were forced to move out of Istanbul. People living in Sulukule are probably the only human constituent of the city who have existed since the days of conquest. The other drive is the Topkapı Culture Park Panorama 1453 History Museum, for which the has to thank the municipality.

In the opening speeches on Jan. 31 for the park, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş pointed out that the area was a dump while they talked about the rediscovery of our deep-rooted historic values. The association was no coincidence. The Istanbul municipality, run by a Justice and Development Party, or AKP, mayor, is determined to re-conquest the city and to re-create it. That contradicts entirely the cosmopolitan mentality of the Ottomans, whom the AKP tries to mimic.

Let us recall a few things first, as this is always useful: Ottomans were not celebrating the Conquest. The celebration of 1453 was invented during the Republic. It was uttered for the first time ever in 1938 in a way to lay the ground for the 500th anniversary of Constantinople’s Conquest. Discussions continued until the first celebration in 1953. It seems that some circles having a quest for a Turk-Islam synthesis perceived this as a first step to have the revenge of the Kemalist era between 1923-1938. Activities launched during Erdoğan’s mayorship of the city proved that such a mentality was becoming more solid. Indeed, the History Museum is a project that was considered while he was the mayor of Istanbul.

Turkey needs an Istanbul mythology to lean on. The AKP does it better than everyone else; this is the only difference. All activities including conquest ceremonies serve that purpose. The activities do not necessarily correspond to historical facts. On the contrary, a new history is in the making. Is there any other nation but us that sanctifies a city conquered six centuries ago? No, there is not because all others have become nations a long time ago and have no need for similar myths. They have a pretty good self-confidence and have no identity problems.

In this context, as the Ottomans themselves did not celebrate such a intense matter like Istanbul’s Conquest though it is a milestone in history, the obsession about the conquest of the pious or laic conservative circles in the Republic of Turkey is worrisome.

Saving the Conquest, Mehmed II and

Istanbul from nationalist rhetoric

Writing a national history via Istanbul and thus re-writing history is not only the AKP’s business. The Congress Valley, or the Prost Valley near Taksim, of the Republican period was planning a national cultural program of the time to the fore through an opera, a stadium, a theater and a park right at the poke of the Pera’s nose. With Topkapı Culture Park, national culture shifted from Prost Valley toward Topkapı, symbolizing the Muslim neighborhood of the Ottomans and the Conquest. After the Prost Valley parenthesis, we have seemed to come back to our cultural origins!

In fact, at Topkapı Park there is everything, as the mayor puts it: mosques, Ottoman houses, the history museum, a traditional arts bazaar, pools, a trekking area and an observation deck, in addition to the "Ottoman" parking lots. É But the mentality behind the Topkapı Park is no different than that of the Prost Valley. Both are re-writing history and the city’s history. The first is doing this through unfamiliar practices and the latter through domestic and familiar tales. However, none are real. The first is trying to form a national culture and history by rejecting the Ottoman past. Today’s local version is trying the same by assuming that the Ottomans consisted of only Muslims.

With the AKP municipality, May 29 becomes a key symbol in re-writing history. May 29 is nothing but a mythological representation based on tales and nationalist-Islamic rhetoric.

Why is May 29 not a day of activities to help us to better understand the Ottoman Empire, how it kept many religions and ethnicities under control? Why is May 29 not an "Ottoman Day"? Can’t we start its celebration on May 29, 2010, within the framework of activities to be held for Istanbul, the Europe Capital of Culture?