Politics and Space: The Transformation of Public Squares in Istanbul

Oznur Sahin | Researcher and Editorial Associate at Issues, Western Sydney University, Australia 

Public squares have been historically crucial in the spatial imaginary of nation-building process in Turkey. Dislocating the former understanding of a centre that is shaped around a mosque in the Ottoman Empire, the centre of each town in the new regime was located next to the central train station (a sign of Turkish modernity), marked by a monument of Atatürk (the founder of the Turkish Republic) and usually named Republic Square. During the AKP’s [Justice and Development Party] term in power since 2002, the number of pedestrianised squares with mosques increased as the AKP municipalities enlarged small squares in the city centres by closing roads to traffic. They were usually rebuilt as wide, plain concrete slabs and used as multi-purpose event spaces within the control of municipalities. The AKP government has also built new squares by reclaiming land from the sea on the Istanbul coastlines, which enable them to showcase their power through grandiose performances. Focusing on the transformation of public squares and the celebrations and commemorations such as Ramadan and the Conquest of Istanbul during the AKP regime, this paper will discuss the role of space and built environment in shaping social and political practices and imaginaries