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İLBER ORTAYLI

İLBER ORTAYLI >Istanbul still doesn’t have a city museum

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Where does Turkey’s history of modern museums start? If we exempt the works sold from the Ottoman palaces, it can be said that the Hagia İrene Church within Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace was the first place where it started.

Classic collections did exist previously. Starting from 1846, instructions were issued to look for historic works. Some archeologists were given licenses.

What is todays known as the Istanbul Archeology Museum was established during the era of Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1891, thanks to the prominent Ottoman administrator, painter, and archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum was built by Alexandre Vallaury, from our city’s Catholic community. 

The Topkapı Palace was also converted into a museum in 1924 after the declaration of the Turkish Republic.
The history of Turkey’s modern museums overlaps with that of Western Europe. Archeology is not an area that Turks do not understand. On the contrary, Turkish archaeology - as claimed by foreign colleagues - is a “school” in the archaeology world. 

However, the problem of legacy is valid throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Apart from Israel, there is no country in the region that strives to protect the historical and archaeological works. 

Construction companies targeting closed military schools

Currently the picture we have regarding museums in Turkey is very unbalanced. Unfortunately, for a long time the Culture Ministry has not conducted examinations to employ museums experts. 

In Anatolia, in remote parts of Turkey, we have some museums that we can be proud of. But there are also some museums that have been the subject of scandals.

The same problems are valid in terms of the activities of local municipalities. For instance, over the course of the last 10 years the Panorama 1453 Museum was established in Istanbul just beyond the city walls. Those who prepared the Panorama Museum, which depicts the conquest of Istanbul, were mostly experts from former Soviet countries, where this is done best.

I have to say that I do not share most of the criticism directed at the museum since it opened years ago. In the end, the museum attracted the attention of the public. We should see it as a success of the Istanbul Municipality. However, the fact that the estate adjacent to the museum was awarded to a construction company for development shows that this administration does not understand parks or museums. It does not think about conserving the city or respecting Istanbul’s historic silhouette. 

The state administration could convert all the military schools and war academies evacuated since the failed July 15 military coup attempt into museums or cultural activity spaces. But instead there are signs that construction companies have their eyes on them. Don’t we see that with Istanbul’s population heading towards 20 million, people are struggling to breath, that the fog we see is actually polluted air? 

We still do not have a city museum. When and how will Istanbul’s richness be properly displayed?

October/17/2016

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