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Istanbul tired of oriental viewpoints and debates

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 1/22/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

Istanbul will be the European Capital of Culture until the end of the year. Right after the official opening, intellectuals started a new debate through e-mail and social networking Web site Facebook. The reason for the debate is the use of oriental figures in the poster of the city, which has been designed to promote the city to the West. Hasan Anamur, who is leading the debate, says, ‘I would paint a ballerina, who is flying over Istanbul in her tutu skirt, but it would be against the AKP government’s conception of the world’

Istanbul cannot rescue itself from being at the center of a new controversy. Europe’s most melancholic capital of culture, Istanbul is now the target of discussions over the poster designed by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency to promote the city in Western countries.

The oriental visuals in the poster with the slogan, “Meet the Roots of Fun – In Istanbul 2010” has become a hot debate among intellectuals. The figures in the poster that have been heavily criticized through e-mails and social networking site Facebook, caricaturize the Ottoman past rather than the city’s historic richness and modern face. Among the figures there is a flute player, a janissary, harem women, sultans and oil wrestlers.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review about the issue, Theater Critics founding member and executive board chairman, and International Interpreters Federation member, Hasan Anamur, said: “I condemn this attitude that promotes Turkey to the West with such images. I am not surprised by this poster, because they organize Turkish Day abroad and send the Ottoman Janissary Band.”

Anamur, speaking about the importance of expressing the modern face of Istanbul in the poster, replied to the question of how he would design a poster for the city, saying: “For example, I would depict a ballerina flying over the city in her tutu skirt. This ballerina would fly over the Hagia Sophia Museum, but unfortunately, such a poster would be against the conception of the world of the Justice and Development Party [or AKP] government.”

[HH] AKP collides with the modern world

Just like Anamur, researcher Hüseyin Irmak is reacting against the poster. He said Istanbul was a modern city of the world, adding: “This poster will trigger the oriental view on Turkey in the Western world. As it is assumed, Istanbul was not an oriental city in the Ottoman period, too. It was just asked to be perceived like this, that’s all.”

Irmak also criticized the AKP and said: “In a period in which the AKP is the ruling party, we could not expect a different poster. Unfortunately, the subconscious of the AKP members collides with the modern world.”

Ahmet Ümit, one of Turkey’s best-known detective novel writers, said it was totally meaningless to him that Istanbul is the European Capital of Culture for one year. He explained the reason, saying: “We rape this city everyday, plunder its history and natural beauties. So what if we become the culture capital of Europe?”

Harshly criticizing the European Capital of Culture agency, Ümit said, “Unfortunately, they make a hash of everything.” When asked what he would want to see on a poster promoting Istanbul, Ümit said: “Of course it should refer to the history, not only the Ottoman but also the Byzantine. The city’s historic and modern face could have been presented together with a different concept.”

[HH] Prejudices against the AKP in public opinion

Istanbul has been the focal point of debates surrounding its 1996 bid to be a European Capital of Culture. The application was rejected as Turkey is not a member of the European Union. Later on, a decision was made that non-EU countries could apply to the program. This decision paved the way for Istanbul to become the 2010 European Capital of Culture.

The city won the fight abroad but the internal fight was just as difficult. The first team that presented the project to the agency resigned because of conflicts with political authorities. Even though it has been known since 1997 that Istanbul would be the European Capital of Culture in 2010, preparations were postponed to the last year. One year was a short time, and especially, while the right-winged AKP was the ruling party.

There were frauds, resignations, debates and administrative changes in the agency that would bring the city this title. There were harsh reactions when the Culture Ministry wanted to restore a theater or a culture center. The biggest argument was on the restoration of the Atatürk Culture Center. Intellectual society and artists defended the idea that the AKP government tried to sabotage art by restoring the center.

Despite all the arguments that had continued for more than 10 years, Istanbul became the European Capital of Culture with magnificent ceremonies Jan. 16. Activities will continue throughout the year.

The repercussions of the capital of culture project may continue for years to come.

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