Why did we conduct this study?
Prepared as part of the1980 Coup d’État studies of the Research Institute on Turkey (RIT) Collective Memory Working Group, this preliminary report focuses on the Beyazıt-Taksim route in Istanbul known for housing various sites of memory where the youth movement, the revolutionary struggle of the era, as well as systematic attacks aiming to break the anti-fascist resistance occurred. Our objective is to mark these sites of memory along this route located on the European side of Istanbul which hold traces of the 1980 Coup. Based on the mapping (pins) of this preliminary study, we would like to recall the places that had been home to the revolutionary movement, understand what they have turned into as sites of memory in the past 42 years and observe the changes within the specified timeline that we define as remembering, forgetting, and recreating public space.
The foundation of this work is the oral history research conducted between 2012-2022 covering the 1980 Coup as part of the RIT Collective Memory Working Group. During the research, in which the testimonies of the era were recorded, we were able to see the past relationship of the witnesses with the sites, how they relate to the very sites today, and their ways of remembering past events based on their perception of the places, which all proved these sites do exist robustly in their memory. Therefore, we decided that the first route would include Beyazıt Square, Taksim Square, and the different paths linking the two squares. Instead of defining a single main route between the two most significant squares of Istanbul, we specified sites of memory from several paths that lie within the vicinity of these squares and/or link them together. This marking work is the product of a preliminary study that can serve as a report.
The main objectives of this work are sharing related information and documents in the future, identifying unmarked sites or the ones that went missing in the first place, trans-forming these practices into a more collective and grounded act of remembering. On the above mentioned route, we identified 42 sites of memory. We documented these sites with photographs and videos, executing an extensive archival work where we made a great effort to reach the visual and written material related to these sites’ histories as long as the circumstances allowed. There is no doubt that these sites which are the embodiment and public stages of dissent are not limited to this inventory. However, at this stage, we had to limit the research with marking these 42 sites since what we strive for is more than a specific memory, but more of seeking either the official or unofficial history of the very space where in some cases no content was available.
One of the primary reasons for choosing to identify the recent history of social struggle on these two squares is that both sites have been the arenas where Turkey’s most significant social transformations manifested themselves in. Another significant point is that the revolutionary student movement, which was considered the driving force and even the backbone of the revolutionary organizing in Istanbul between 1975 and 1985, had organized mainly on this route involving the two squares and the linking paths since 1968.
Following the Military Memorandum of March 12, 1971 which mainly targeted the revolutionaries, revolutionary parties, and labor unions to silence the rising opposition sparked by the student movement in 1968, the revolutionary student movement once again started to reorganize after 1973. With the general amnesty in 1974, the revolutionary student and labor movements had opened a considerably important path of struggle even under the toughest circumstances. Organizing between 1974 and 1977 to resist various attacks, the student movement had become the main body of the political movements that emerged in 1977 and onwards. At that time, the left-wing movement active in schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces was split into numerous factions. The fact that most of the individuals who were detained and arrested in the 1980 Coup were mainly high school or university students can be considered as a strong indicator in that sense.
Despite the huge bloodbath of the 1980 Coup, it was unable to completely eradicate the revolutionary student organization, which partially maintained its presence around Beyazıt and Taksim. Beginning to regroup after 1983, the left organized the students in universities in 1988 leading to several great protests some of which are against the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) and the boycott of Istanbul Technical University (ITU) students. However, since the old meeting spots (coffeehouses, pudding shops, etc.) became exposed at that time, after 1983, gatherings began to take place in venues near the Laleli neighborhood rather than the old ones near Beyazıt Square. Meanwhile at Taksim, meetings were held at coffeehouses in inner corners of nearby streets, because these places were rather inconspicuous. As for the 1990s, the political party buildings, foundations, art houses, and coffeehouses became the spots for revolutionary students to meet and organize. Another hot spot for revolutionary student activities was İstiklal Avenue which hosted cultural activities in cinemas, theaters, and art houses as it did before the 1980 Coup.
Questions of how the authentic traits of both squares and their peripheries reflect on space and how the uses of these spaces have changed before and after the coup have been explored in the context of the student movement’s practices of organization, resistance, and struggle.
We observed that some of the 42 sites in the preliminary report either transformed years ago or are in the process of change. Due to the change of the original functions of these buildings over the years, not only the ties between the buildings and memory had been torn apart, but also their architectural features had been altered, or are currently being transformed. For instance, Beyazıt Square, the heart of Beyazıt district where some of the markings on the Sultanahmet-Sirkeci route are situated, is going through another transformation, after countless ones. To mention another example from Beyazıt, the street where Denizli Dormitory stands on and the collateral streets now look completely different than what they used to be. With all the old buildings gone today, they share a generic look with any other street in the neighborhood, even the sidewalks, and façades of the current buildings look alike. Being used by different institutions over the years, Sanasaryan Han and Forensic Medicine-Morgue buildings, despite having been restored already, are today again in restoration to be handed over to other institutions. Taksim area, our marking area for sites of memory between Taksim Square and Tunnel Square, was not any different either. We cannot say for sure if the square can handle another arrangement, or if its historical features can be preserved in the case of one, however, its ties with the past were already broken. As for İstiklal Avenue, even the traces of the 1990s were long gone, let alone the 1970s. The popular cinemas, theaters, and bookstores of İstiklal had to close to leave room for “brand” stores, resulting in massive alteration of building façades (which used to be an important architectural element of İstiklal Avenue). In this preliminary report, we solely observed the two squares, the change within the districts they lie in, and how the relationship between buildings and memory has been torn apart. Other districts of Istanbul also had their share of this very situation.
Our future expectations of this preliminary project
We hope to achieve the following with our mapping work:
To enrich the information and documentation regarding sites of memory where the anti-fascist movement was organized in;
To trace the continuity of these urban policies, which adopt a gentrifying and erosional nature regarding urban memory by keeping a record of destroyed sites or the ones that had been gradually transformed;
To enable the possibility of making connections between sites of memory and historical events which might seem unrelated in the beginning;
To create a tech-supported mapping and the sound-walk project featuring the sites’ authentic narratives;
As part of our collaboration with local authorities, discovering physical/virtual domains in a collective manner where these sites can be experienced and remembered within their historical background;
To understand an important part of the recent past based on these sites and transferring this cumulative information to future generations through “memory tours” based on these sites.