The Politics of Identity and Neo-Ottomanism in Turkey: The Last Ottoman as a Hero of the Turkish Republic
Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Turkish Republicans have typically done their best to distance themselves as much as possible from their Ottoman past. We see this in the banning of the fez or of the headscarf in public institutions, and even more so in the language reforms of the 1920s and 1930s. However, the last five years have seen a distinct rise of what have been labelled neo-Ottoman discourses in the construction of Turkish national identity. These discourses attempt to reconnect the Republican present to its Ottoman past by reformatting Turkish collective memory. One such example is the 2007 blockbuster film The Last Ottoman. In this film the protagonist, the prototypical Ottoman folk hero Knock-Out Ali, is portrayed as a key figure in the events leading up to the Turkish War of Independence. The film shows us Knock-Out Ali working side-by-side with Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) towards the establishment of the Republic. A film such as this one could never have been produced in the first decades of the Turkish Republic. The study of contemporary Turkish culture, and especially works of popular culture such as The Last Ottoman, offers us clear examples of how collective memory and identity are constructed. The rise of neo-Ottoman discourses in Turkey challenges any essentialist notion opposing the idea that national identities are in a constant state of flux.
Keywords: Identity Politics, Turkish Identity, Collective Memory, Neo-Ottomanism, The Last Ottoman
Dr. Martin Cyr Hicks
Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Fatih University