Underground Culture in the Late Ottoman Empire and Turkey

Supervised by: Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika

Main collaborator: Dr. Timour Muhidine (INaLCO)

Duration: 2013 – 2020

In this research area, which was established as part of an international network, cultural phenomena are explored beyond the cultural and social mainstream in Turkey to better understand the “other” Istanbul and the “other” Turkey and thus the dynamics of social and cultural developments in Turkey. The time frame ranges from the late Ottoman period to the present day. The main disciplinary areas are literature, modern art history, and anthropology. Along with Turkish (incl. Doç. Dr. Hülya Adak), German, and French colleagues (IFEA and INALCO), the project also includes the participation of Prof. Dr. Laurent Mignon (Oxford).

Five thematic axes were agreed upon, which so far have only been partly carried out as individual projects:

  1. Literature: key authors (from Neyzen Tevfik to Küçük İskender), trash literature (since the late 1990s), the feminist underground, gay literature, etc.
  2. Publishing: Fanzines, underground “chic” publications (Norgunk, 6:45, Marjinal Kitap, etc.), and anarchist publications (printed and online).
  3. Visual arts: caricatures, painting (Yüksel Arslan and Cihat Burak as classic examples), and “outsider art” as a newcomer in the Turkish art scene, along with experimental cinema as a further example of this particular aesthetic.
  4. Sociology/anthropology: “youth tribes” like motorcycle clubs, anarchist groups, which flourished in the environment of the Gezi protests, the “classic underworld,” underclasses and crooks (Kabadayı, Apaşlar, Apaçi), and the widespread LGBT culture.
  5. Music (Martin Greve/Fabio Salomoni): “classic” Rebetiko (19th–20th c.), rap and heavy metal, but also the music of Afro-Turks.

Motorcycle Culture Turkey

Supervised by: Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika

Duration: Since 2013

The project deals with the history of motorcycles as a means of transport since the late Ottoman period and the evolving subculture, which differs significantly from the Western European motorcycle culture. In the 2000s, motorcycle production in Turkey developed into an important industry with numerous manufacturers, whereas the increasingly differentiated motorcycle culture primarily concerns imported vehicles because of the related prestige. The project centers on the historical reappraisal of, and smaller field-research based studies into, individual subgroups, mostly belonging to the Turkish rock scene.

Sakallı Celal and the Bohemianism of the Early Republican Period

Supervised by: Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine

Duration: Since 2014

This small project concerns the individual “Sakallı Celal.” Though he never published any works as a bohemian intellectual, he was nonetheless an influential thinker and philosopher who served as a reference point and influenced many intellectuals and writers of that time.

International Workshop: Sociology of Marginal Youth

Supervised by: Dr. Timour Muhidine, Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine, and Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika

Event date: 19 Nov. 2015

Main collaborator: INaLCO

On November 19 at the OII, the fifth workshop on the research area took place within the scope of the international conference “Translating Social Sciences from Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew” (Organizer: INaLCO (Paris), IFEA, Galatasaray University, Orient-Institut Istanbul). This time the focus was on the “Sociology of Marginal Youth.” The discussion primary emphasized the topic of “youth tribes” and its expression in social and literary forms. The following four papers were presented: (1) Raoul Motika’s presentation on transnational German-Turkish aspects of “rocker clubs”; (2) Hülya Adak’s literary analysis of the representation of homosexual love in the novels of Perihan Mağden; (3) Timour Muhidine’s remarks on thugs in underground literature, and (4) the work of Ömer Miraç Yaman, who conducts research on the so-called “Apaçi,” a youthful working-class milieu in the outskirts of Istanbul.


International Workshop: Istanbul Underground—L’Underground contre les arts

Supervised by: Dr. Timour Muhidine and Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine

Event date: 27 May 2015

Main collaborator: INaLCO

On 27 May 2015, the fourth workshop of the network took place in Paris on the topic “Istanbul Underground—L’Underground contre les arts,” with the participation of A. Toumarkine. The workshop was jointly organized with the Institut d’études de l’Islam et des sociétés du monde musulman. The topics of the presentations ranged from public dance performances during the Gezi protests to the representation of the “marginalized city” in the new Turkish graphic novels. Marc Kober (Université Paris 13, PLEIADE) presented his latest research on Yüksel Arslan, a central figure in the Turkish and Paris underground culture. Victoire Bech (head of the project “la démarche HQAC”) held a lecture entitled “Urban and architectural experimentation for a new usage of public space.” Judith Mayer (Université Paris 13) elaborated on “Performance and social protest: the standing dancers of Gezi Park.” Perin Yavuz (Institut d’études de l’Islam et des sociétés du monde musulman) presented her latest research on concept art in Istanbul in the 1970s. Timour Muhidine (Institut national des langues et civilizations orientales) gave a talk entitled “From Caricature to the Graphic Novel: The Marginal City.”


International Workshop: Underground Cultures

Supervised by: Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine, Dr. Timour Muhidine, and Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika

Event date: 26–27 Sept. 2014

Main collaborator: INaLCO

This workshop dealt with various areas of Turkish culture beyond the mainstream. Hülya Adak (Sabancı University) spoke about the Kurdish theater in Istanbul, and Laurent Mignon (University of Oxford) discussed the largely forgotten early Republican author Nezihe Muhittin, who had written a sadomasochistic novel about a serial killer that was later banned. New member of the project network, Erik Mortenson (Koç University), gave a talk on the early reception of beatniks in Turkey, which has again generated considerable interest in recent years. Alain Servantie offered an account of Edmond Fazy, a central figure of the international cultural underground from the beginning of the 20th century who extensively described his experiences in Istanbul. Timour Muhidine (Institut national des langues et civilizations orientales) presented on the writer Metin Kaçan, who died in 2013. He was one of the most colorful figures of the Istanbul underground. Marc Kober (Université Paris 13) discussed where the boundaries of the “underground” lie with reference to the famous Turkish painter Yüksel Arslan, who was part of the bohemian Paris scene from the 1960s through the 1980s. Martin Greve (Orient-Institut Istanbul), conversely, analyzed an unmistakably marginalized group, namely the musicians from Dersim who live in Istanbul and represent an obvious political element of the underground. Raoul Motika (Orient-Institut Istanbul) then discussed from a socio-anthropological perspective the emergence of “youth tribes” in Turkey on the example of Istanbul rocker groups. Pierre Hecker (University of Marburg) subsequently enriched this discussion with examples from his dissertation on Turkish metal rock.

International Workshop: Marginality and Underground Trends in the Big City

Supervised by: Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine, Dr. Timour Muhidine, and Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika

Event date: 24 Oct. 2013

Main collaborator: INaLCO

The workshop was divided into two parts. First, the participants briefly introduced their respective research plans on the “Istanbul Underground” and discussed conceptual questions relating to three central themes of the new research area. In the field of literature, the discussion primarily centered on the proper conceptualization of marginal poets, so that both different trends as well as specific historical and social circumstances could be accounted for. In addition to deepening the discussion, which began in a preliminary workshop in February 2013, it was first decided to focus on some of the more recent well-established authors like Peyami Safa who were active at certain stages of their literary careers with topics outside of the mainstream and at the periphery of the usual social and cultural conventions. Second, it was agreed that within the scope of the project censorship practices should be analyzed, especially against anarchist and pornographic literature. In the area of “music,” the possibility of a compilation CD was also discussed which would document the different faces of “underground” music. Here, interesting musical directions include Rebetiko for the 19th-20th century, rap and heavy metal, but also the music of Afro-Turks. Even many Arabesk musicians have lived through an “underground” period. Another important area of ​​investigation going forward will be the so-called “big-city tribes” such as the soccer fan club scene and the various organized biker groups, whose increasingly popularity as socio-cultural groups is reflected, for instance, in recent literature and graphic novels.

In the afternoon, the writer and physician Altay Öktem, an expert on youth and underground culture and author of a fanzine anthology, gave a wide-ranging introduction into the complex world of Turkish fanzine culture with his talk “Istanbul Fanzinlerine bir Bakış.” In 2002, he organized the first fanzine exhibition at Kargart Sanat Merkezi. He is also active as a publisher and is responsible for the series Marjinal Kitap at Laika Verlag in Beyoğlu.

International Workshop: “Underground Culture—Launching the Project”

Supervised by: Dr. Alexandre Toumarkine and Dr. Timour Muhidine

Event date: 23 Feb. 2013

Main collaborator: INaLCO

This preliminary workshop of the research area primarily dealt with conceptual issues and the classification of different cultural and social phenomena. Arriving at a clear definition of the underground concept proved to be difficult, since the respective phenomenon can be classified quite differently depending on the historical context and the observer’s vantage point. Also the phenomena were and continue to be conceived according to distinct terms like bohemianism. To come up with a workable definition of the research area, five thematic axes were defined: (1) literature including phenomena like trash literature (from the late 1990s), feminist underground, gay literature, and relatively unknown and forgotten marginalized authors that will help in better understanding the “other Istanbul”; (2) the world of writers of fanzines, so-called “underground chic” (Norgunk, 6:45, Marjinal Kitap, etc.), and anarchists (printed and online)—It is important to study the particular spaces of such books and magazines.—; (3) fine arts with cartoons, paintings, and the recent trend of “outsider art”; (4) experimental film; and (5) social phenomena like “youth tribes,” anarchist groups, the classical underworld and gangsters (Kabadayı, Apaşlar, Apaçi) and socially marginalized groups, the LGBT subcultures.