Fabian Riesinger (European University Institute, Florence, department of History and Civilisation)
Imagining Rhodes and Fashioning Malta: Interconnectivity and Appropriation after 1600

Neo-Moorish monument at the Turkish Military Cemetery in Marsa, Malta. It is a cenotaph as no tombs exist within. Photograph by Sophia Hackel on April 15, 2022.

My PhD project examines the relationship between the islands of Rhodes and Malta from 1600 to 1800. The political use of the term relationship might conjure up images of a supposed civilisational divide: Rhodes, a maritime hub for the Ottoman Empire, facing Malta, the spearhead of Latin Europe. The project, however, delves into how the islands’ populations might have been unwittingly connected long after Rhodes became Ottoman in 1522 and its former occupants, the Knights of St. John, took up quarters on Malta in 1530. The focus lies on the experience of slaves and exiles, moved, and removed both internally in the Ottoman Empire and the Latinate world as well as in between. Ultimately, a series of relevant case studies reveals the patterns of movement linking the eponymous islands. Here, Ottoman bureaucratic sources intertwine with passionate poems in Italian about treacherous Turks trying to topple the Grand Master of Malta. While diverse concepts of unfreedom structure the project, the two leading approaches to the cases themselves pertain to the history of (forced) migration and the study of (sacral) architecture as a reflection of imperial entitlement and the human life contained within.

At the Orient-Institut, I aim to complete my collection of Ottoman sources at the various Istanbul-based archives and libraries. With the city as the field itself, I will be able to investigate architectural heritage contemporary to my case studies. This allows me to draw meaningful comparisons with Ottoman Rhodes but also with the Latinate cityscapes of the same period.

Maysa Albert (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München)
Seen from the Edge: Istanbul’s Last 100 Years from the Perspective of Its Peripheries

3d-isometric-map-of-istanbul. Photografer: Maksim Grebeshkov.

This project is centered around a compelling proposition – the imperative to rethink and retheorize the intricate interplay between urban centres and peripheries, as well as the concept of the “periphery” itself.

The objective is to explore urban patterns and elements from a historical perspective, focusing on three distinct peripheries of Istanbul – Alibeyköy, Beykoz, and the land walls – analyzing the shifting discourses within them, connecting social dynamics and physical aspects, forging connections between social dynamics and physical aspects in the context of a global city. By connecting social dynamics and physical aspects within the context of a global city, this project aims to identify spatial and discursive transformations and gain insight into Istanbul’s history from the perspective of its margins, uncovering the city’s power relations.

To accomplish this, the research will thoroughly examine various criteria, including accessibility, economic flows, infrastructure, and population structure, to elucidate the hybridity that arises from urban public spaces. This hybridity blurs the traditional boundaries between centers and peripheries, thus emphasizing the flexible and dynamic nature underlying conventional urban design concepts.

The outcomes of this project will be presented in the form of customized, web-based maps that allow for essential statistical analyses. Additionally, the project will employ story maps to detail the events, issues, trends, and patterns concerning the identified peripheries, drawing from a vast collection of geodata accessible 24/7.

By exploring the complexities of Istanbul’s peripheries and their development over the last century, this research strives to contribute to the broader academic discourse on urban studies. The project’s emphasis on the significance of peripheries in shaping power structures will shed light on previously understudied aspects of Istanbul’s urban history, leading to a more nuanced understanding of urban development.

Burcu Yaşin (Concordia University, Montreal)
Volume Up, Volume Down: Sonic Gentrification and the Tuning of Romani Music in Turkey

The Clarinet player Eyüp and his son perform together in front of their home in Sargöl, Istanbul. Photographer: Paolo Buatti

This project traces the sonic impacts of gentrification. Gentrification continues to be a global problem in today’s cities. Irrespective of geographies and cultures, it mostly impacts vulnerable communities. Displacements affect these communities’ livelihoods, social networks, and economies, causing further marginalization in everyday life. Only recently scholars have begun to address the impacts of gentrification on local cultures and artistic practices, mainly focusing on their disappearance and subsequent replacement. However, gentrification may lead to homogenization of both local culture and space without necessarily eliminating cultural practices. Space, in fact, is particularly important for music cultures relying on informal learning, community-oriented performance, non-notational systems, and improvisation. Massive spatial transformations in the urban realm due to gentrification, instead of simply causing the disappearance of such practices, therefore engenders radical change in music cultures worth being examined in depth.

My project aims at answering the question of how government-sponsored urban policies impact and homogenize marginalized music cultures, with a specific focus on Turkish Romanies. The project addresses three main issues overlooked in the existing literature: (a) the connection between urban politics and marginalized music cultures, (b) the impact of gentrification on music performance and knowledge transmission, and (c) the homogenization of music styles and practices due to the spatial transformation. To analyze these issues in depth, my project elaborates on the concepts of acoustemology (sonic way of knowing connected to the everyday), atmospheres, and sonic gentrification, while combining several research methodologies such as archival research, oral history, and sensory ethnography.

Orhun Yalçın (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies)
History of Artvin and Kars in the 19th century

The cover of the petition written from Artvin on March 26, 1869 to Bishop Mesrob who was head of the Armenian Episcopate of Trebizond. Archives of the Patriarchate of Istanbul, Nubar Library, Paris.

In the Ottoman Empire, the 19th century is known as the period when modern state mechanisms were established and capitalism began to take root. As part of these modernization steps, the Empire promised in the Gülhane Edict of 1839 and the Islahat Order of 1856 to ensure the safety of life, property and honor of Christians and Jews. However, it can be seen that the practice of the Tanzimat in the provinces differed from what had been written on paper. Although detailed research and studies have been conducted for different regions of the empire, the provinces of Artvin and Kars regions did not attract the attention of the Tanzimat historians. However, Artvin and Kars, a border region between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire and situated far from the Ottoman imperial centre, have an interesting and important position in terms of understanding what modernization meant in a multinational empire. When did Tanzimat concepts reach the border regions of Artvin and Kars? How were the relevant intentions implemented? What was the relationship of the Armenian community, one of the main actors in the region, to these practices? How did the Tanzimat affect trade, administration, and power relations in the region?

Orhun Yalçın’s Ph.D. research examines the socio-economic, cultural and political conditions of Armenians in the region of Artvin and Kars during the Tanzimat period in the 19th century Ottoman Empire. Using primary sources in Armenian, Ottoman Turkish and French from the Archives of the Armenian Patriarchate and the Ottoman Archives, the project seeks to understand the relationship of the Armenians of Artvin and Kars to the developments of the Tanzimat and how modernization manifested itself in this region. In this context, it aims to contribute to the historiography of the Tanzimat by listening to the voices of the provincial population.

Berkay Uluç (University of Michigan, Comparative Literature)
Translingual Ottoman Modernity: Texts, Concepts, and Media

Figure: Hikâye-i Robenson, Milli Kütüphane, 06 Mil EHT A 35981

With translation as its focal point, my project argues that understanding Ottoman modernity requires one to particularly attend to but also necessarily go beyond Turkish-Arabic cultural contact. In so doing, it situates the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century connections and contestations between Turkish and Arabic within the larger context of multilingual, multiscript, and multimedial interactions within the Ottoman Empire and between the empire and Europe. Shaped around four themes—namely, “history,” “language,” “literature,” and “aesthetics”—my project draws on a set of archival sources from legal proclamations to philosophical treatises to translated literature to illustrated journals. Documenting Ottoman modernity through and beyond Turkish-Arabic contact, these archival registers embody a wide variety of translation practices between “native” and “foreign” languages, scripts, and media in their material structures as well as between “classical” and “modern” epistemologies, genres, and vocabularies in their conceptual universes. One case study I am working on is Hikâye-i Robenson—Ahmed Lutfi’s 1864 Arabic-to-Turkish translation of Robinson Crusoe, which is canonically considered the first novel in English. Accompanying the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish in the 1869 edition of Hikâye-i Robenson is a series of visual and textual elements copied from a Greek translation of the novel, including those revealing the power relations between the protagonist and his “servant” Friday. Using the methods of comparative literature, translation studies, and book history to analyze such “translingual” marks born by the texts of late Turkish-Arabic contact—materially, upon the page, and conceptually, in their content—I offer to explore Ottoman modernity in its hegemonic and heterogeneous facets at once. While standing at the intersection of critical Ottoman studies and critical translation studies, my project also aspires to benefit from and contribute to theoretical frameworks such as world literature, postcolonial studies, queer studies, and aesthetics and politics.

Selim Kırılmaz (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Social and Cultural Anthropology Department)
Music, Migration and Silencing: Memory of the Music of old Mardin and Mihail Kirilmaz

The musicians Cercis Xeco, Corc Kırılmaz, and Yusuf Neceg. The photo was provided by the Kirilmaz family.

In my Ph.D. research, I investigate how the migration of Christians from Mardin/Turkey, which took largely place between the 1940s and 1990s, is remembered in the context of the touristification the old town of Mardin has experienced since the early 2000s.

By the late 1990s and early 2000sTurkey has witnessed the birth of neoliberal cultural politics and a new discourse on “minorities”. In this context, the city of Mardin began to be prioritized as a multicultural, touristic hub. Meanwhile, a protocol for the city’s admission to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List was signed in 2000.

During this time, the Syriac community and the city of Mardin gained visibility as a “multicultural” space in Turkish media through tv serial, documentaries, and tourism. However, the history has been concealed that has transformed Mardin into a city that is today all but entirely populated by Muslims.

In this context, my great-uncle Mihail Kırılmaz (1919-1997), a Syriac bard whose songs were recorded in the post-1940s, became an icon of nostalgia for ‘old’ Mardin: his songs were ‘retrieved’ by local musicians, and articles about him began to appear online in the early 2000s. My research explores the songs of ‘old’ Mardin, the musicians involved and their stories. The adjective ‘old’ refers not only to the time when non-Muslims had a significant presence in the city, but also to the historical settlement of Mardin’s city centre, as opposed to the new concrete settlement of Mardin built below the city centre in the 2000s.

In this sense, I take the work and life of Mihail Kırılmaz as my starting point. I focus on the oral history of Christians in old Mardin between 1940 and 1990, a period in which, on the one hand, Mardinite musicians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds recorded much of their music and, on the other hand, most of the city’s Christians were forced to leave the area. In my research, I am simultaneously investigating the silent migration of Mardinite Christians and the impact of current multiculturalist discourses on ‘old’ Mardin and Syriacs. To this end, I have already conducted interviews with family members of the brothers George and Mihail Kırılmaz, Mardinite musicians and music experts, elderly people in the city, and community representatives.For my research methodology, I aim to conceptualize how the songs and quatrains, and the narratives that Mardinites recount about the researched period, shape the affective dimensions of remembering a silenced past. Moreover, because I am an ‘insider’ researcher, this research has the potential to present an opportunity for reflection on the ways of generational transmission of memories and emotions.

By both analyzing music itself and using it in in-depth interviews I am interested in the role of music in navigating social relationships as well as demonstrate its potential as a mnemonic device in conducting oral historical research at a methodological level.

Besides, I hope to contribute to the very limited ethnographical studies on the collective memory of Syriacs in Turkey.