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ankara, essay, identity, urban

“Alla Turca” Urbanization: A Concise Urban History of New Ankara — since 1980s


[A Scene from İstanbul | Photo Credit by Murat Germen | http://muratgermen.com

The urban transformation of Ankara since the 1980s, as well as the construction of its political cityscape as the new nuclei in the accumulation of global capital, for some can be considered as one of the more striking examples of a universally experienced capitalist spatialization.[1] Here, one may then draw a specific conceptual frame for the Turkish case: perhaps originally quite unique in its ultimately Modernist and yet bureaucratically statist context of perpetual transformation, Ankara, since the 1980s, has witnessed economic and political challenges that have been reproduced by its underlying contesting positions as both national and international; and in parallel to this, the capital city has been both the object and the instrument of such positions.[2] Even though all these positions may constitute broad generalizations, it must be said that one can still find ample information about the profoundly contextual complexities that underlie Ankara’s changing attitudes in its creation of staunchly conservative and yet capitalist identities, as reflected explicitly in its mode of unique urbanization.

In part, one must consider Ankara as a pure representation of a pseudo and yet quite effective post-industrial capitalism: first, it is to promote the spatial-fixation for further land speculation for the newly emerging bourgeoisie and the bureaucratic elite; and second, it also helps the development of an original, Alla Turca urbanisation in further social and cultural constructions. The formation of this Alla Turca spatiality, along with that of Alla Turca Modernism since the 1980s, therefore, should constitute the locus of any academic reading if one is to understand fully the spatio-political currents that are inherent in Ankara’s recent urban paradigms.[3]

Ankara’s spatial incentives, in this very context, frame a powerful narration for understanding the political history of Turkey, and moreover, the city tells an explicit story of the state’s neo-liberal tendencies in urbanisation, locating the urban space as the site of constant contestation, explicit or not, of such deeply structured politics. Ankara has always been a capital of contesting policies, and for this very reason, the city’s post-1980s can also be regarded as the very capital of real-and-imagined, and material-and-metaphorical imaginaries;[4] with which Ankara was masterly utilized as a mere embodiment of those ‘conflicting positions’.[5]

What is striking in the post-1980s development was in fact quite simple: The idea of neo-liberal urbanisation was believed to provide a strong political sphere for the construction of a new conservative ethos, indicating a continual tendency to draw away from the political influences of the Modernist genesis that was embedded in the 1923 Revolution. Neo-liberal urban policies were officially introduced immediately after the third military coup-d’état in order to separate Ankara from the existing world of the pre-1980s’ display. The new conservative ruling elite as well as the national bourgeoisie were so powerful in this political interplay that, through a vigilant assembly of ideological programs and even a specific ordering of the codes of conduct of spatial production, post-1980 Ankara, in its first years, was forced into a massive transformation. The neo-liberal urbanisation was an organised project, and accordingly, the capital city had to be re-visited carefully to permit the displacement of its original Modernist spatiality. Despite its original modern cityscape, it was also very important for the bourgeoisie that the city yield a new iconography in separate ideological and historiographical contexts. Recognising the fact that the neo-liberal incentives in urban landscapes were one of the most significant components in the creation of a new capitalist cityscape, the demands then captured a dramatic shift by which the pre-1980 Ankara came gradually to a partial end by 2000.[6]

In this process of neo-liberal urbanisation, a distinctive image that was eclectic in nature, and service were given to Ankara’s new social and spatial faculties. Designed as the home of the new conservative state elite and the national bourgeoisie, the new urban programs and their spaces were believed to represent the new character of what had been imagined. Attached to these new environments, on the other hand, the new urban practices were also introduced as elements of capitalist praxis in the building of a new non-political public sphere.[7] As arguably the very first forms of neo-liberal policies, the new urban practices were vital for the creation of the most-wanted spaces, aimed also at using fully the new environments for the material localisation of the invented images of the capitalist cityscape. The deliberate construction of luxurious residences, plazas, shopping malls, office blocks and large boulevards, and the invention of new urban practices, in short, constituted the interlocked domains of neo-liberal urbanisation, drawn primarily from the capitalist allegiance to its spatial representations.[8]

The trilogy of capitalism, neo-liberal urbanisation and coupled corporate architecture became a major theme among Ankara’s newly emerging capital holders, the ruling technocrats, and the new urban practices, together with their consumer culture. Along with its specific function for local politicians and the bourgeoisie, if Ankara was the centre of the new conservative state, its new urbanisation was certainly its spatial manifestation in the fullest sense. The emerging Ankara, on the other hand, with its processes and end products – new CBDs and suburban development patterns akin to those of European examples – truly represented the bourgeois visions on the way to mobilising neo-liberal planning procedures for additional capitalist urban-development strategies. For the local ruling cadres, as well as the bourgeoisie, the new urbanisation provided an inclusive perspective similar to those of corporate examples and a model for possible future development, as could be seen in any ordinary Western model.

Under such neo-liberal incentives, building the new Ankara was an important component of the capitalist urban scheme, and the new urban transformation projects were certainly an essential part of this – bringing with them also overarching legal incentives and institutional establishments. The examples of pseudo-Western mimicry were already emerging, and the development projects and their close environs were given the role of creating prestigious urban landmarks for the city.[9] For the new conservative bourgeoisie, becoming and being seen was of importance, and the invited star designers, in this respect, had to follow the new clients’ requirements. As a result, the end product was both architecturally and politically powerful, and the new developments in this new urban context instantly empowered the bourgeois desires and their spatial premises.

The new Ankara soon became a significant sign of the contemporary vision and the related corporate architecture and commercial life. Consumer culture-based practices for the bourgeoisie, which required unusual urban practices, spatial typologies, services and massive infrastructures, were now the symbolic loci for the most-desired urbanite, as exemplified through the new archetypes, programs and events, all coupled with the new housing stocks, office blocks, retail facilities, shiny administrative buildings, and colossal ministries and other nearby state facilities.[10]

Within this framework, it can be concluded that the capital city has provided a significant mode of space production, meaning that the domicile of neo-liberal reforms since the 1980s can now be regarded as the nexus of all spatial policies. By drawing upon such competing values, the new Ankara can be regarded as more of a symbolic enterprise and a social metaphor that contributed to the newly needed reforms of the emerging conservative bourgeoisie. From an interdisciplinary perspective, it is believed that at the centre of these reforms can be found the legacy of post-industrial capitalism itself and the character of the new neo-liberal policies in both their social and spatial elements. In other words, in Ankara, the dominant perception of space and the associated ideological codes have become so-called “Globally Modern” as a result both of specific local policies and of the state’s spatial incentives.

Embracing and internalising all of the political dimensions of neo-liberalism, capitalist urbanisation was thus regarded as a total project in support of Ankara’s pseudo-fabrications in all aspects. In this specific framework, the social structure had to be reconstructed around capitalist organisational patterns and conservative ideologies, as shared notions, values and ideals that were believed constituted the necessary instruments for complete change.

That is to say one more time that along similar lines, and inherent in exclusive capitalist urbanisation, there may emerge a conservative political desire for the legitimisation of the new social and cultural codes, but only through the introduction of elements of an exclusive spatial transformation, either in a material sense or simply in terms of public perception. As the images of this period clearly depict, constructing a New Ankara while creating an officially conservative public perception through the forces of spatial transformation were the constituent elements of the global policies and perspectives. The eminent power of capitalist urbanisation played a pivotal role for the bourgeoisie, with contemporary urban and architectural qualities and their conservative social engineering being of great significance, as surely were the subsequent spatial re-organisations; and the construction of new buildings, programs and infrastructures, and the cultivation of landscape further signified the material and social transformation of the city for the purposes of capitalist and yet inherently conservative change.[11]

In short, such a massive transformation was a powerful metaphor within the process of making the new identity more visible and legitimate, and the emphasis on capitalist urbanisation and its conservative desire was certainly an indispensable part of it. Neo-liberal policies were a recurring theme through which the sole images of Ankara were then coupled with wealth, consumption and luxury, and yet also social inequality, uneven development, social segregation, spatial fragmentation and poverty. In this painfully lengthy procedure, what had been considered as original “Modern”, “Modernism” and ”Modernist” were then abandoned and excluded from the imaginations of the new Ankara, as for both the national and the local political cadre and bourgeoisie, the emerging spatiality was, in the end, nothing but an invented Alla Turca imagination.*


*It is a revised version of a lecture given at METU Department of Architecture in 2012-2013 Academic Year. For the printed version: “Studio | log, arch401-402, architectural design studios 2012-2013, METU: Faculty of Architecture Press, Ankara.”

[1] For other exemplary urbanization attempts in the Western peninsula, see: Andy Merrifield, Dialectical Urbanism: Social Struggles in the Capitalist City, Monthly Review Press: New York, 2002.

[2] Güven Arif Sargın, “Sincan, A Town on the Verge of Civic Breakdown: The Spatialization of Identity Politics and Resistance,” Visualizing Secularism and Religion; Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, India, (Edit) Alev Çinar, Srirupa Roy, Maha Yahya, The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2012: 258-280.

[3] For a deciphering of the term Alla Turca Urbanization, I refer to a recently edited book published as part of a graduate studio in the METU Department of Architecture: Güven Arif Sargın (Edit), ankara.kent.atlası, Mimarlar Odası Yayınları: Ankara, 2012.

[4] The new capital city of contemporary Turkey has always been a site of political contestation among warring parties since the foundation of the state. For further information on the deep structuring of Turkey since its first year of establishment, see: Güven Arif sargın, “Displaced Memories, or the Architecture of Forgetting and Remembrance”, Society and Space; Environment and Planning D, Vol.22, Number 5, 2004, pp. 659-680.

[5] Recent patterns represent a continual tendency into a patchwork spatiality that captures inherently all the incentives of capitalist mode of urbanization for the further accumulation of capital and neo-conservative ideologies, stemming from pre-republican imaginaries as well as pseudo-religious sentiments.

[6]Through the new neo-liberal urbanization, the presentation of capitalist spatiality was easily detached from that of the original Modernism, marking the first 50 years of the Republic and of the city’s early urban planning efforts. For further reading of how local incentives were coupled with globally tailored ideological demands in an international context, see: Tahl Kaminer, Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation; The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture, Routledge: London and New York, 2011.

[7] For a reading of how capitalism has produced contesting positions in a spatial praxis, see: David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism, The Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York, 2010.

[8] Güven Arif Sargın, “Towards an Enigmatic Age: Architecture of Resistance and Surrender,” International Intbau Conference – Cyprus, 2013 (Also posted at mekan_praxis @ gasmekan.wordpress.com in 2014)

[9]Building new projects concurrently necessitated a larger schema of urban operations, and consequently some of the earliest examples were soon demolished to give way to much more powerful urban structures – residential or office towers, new mega-retailer archetypes, super in-city highways, etc. Unlike the earliest examples, the new theme addressed the global aspirations of the bourgeoisie, which was the primary issue in the representation of new Ankara’s well-known attachment to the international capitalist networks.

[10] Ankara is not a singular case in this overwhelming endeavour, as one may argue that it was and has always been part of a larger network that stems from the circulation and accumulation of global capital. Following a similar line of argument, see: Robert Adam, The Globalisation of Modern Architecture: The Impact of Politics, Economics and Social Change on Architecture and Urban Design since 1990,” Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle upon Tyne, 2012.

[11] Güven Arif Sargın, Emek Sermaye Çelişkisinin Mekansal İzdüşümü; Türkiye’de Kent ve Rant, Mimarlar Odası Dergisi – Bülten, Ankara, 2012. (Also posted at mekan_praxis @ gasmekan.wordpress.com in 2013)


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