In terms of its existing built environment, Istanbul is one of the youngest cities on the planet: the DNA of the urban core had been radically overwritten during the 19th century, with only a negligible portion of its current building stock dating back to the 1960s or earlier. Meanwhile, the policy officially termed 'urban transformation' is likely to erase and restructure almost all of the remaining built environment from the 19th and 20th centuries within the coming decade. Although fires, earthquakes and changing demographics constituted a starting point for such warlike transformations, the credit for these interventions goes mainly to political ambitions. In particular, spaces of centrality, such as Taksim Square, heavily loaded with ideological representation, are usually hit most severely. The Occupy Gezi movement of 2013 emerged with a clear reference to the symbolic value of space.
In searching for an appropriate language to describe the tragedy of the 1948 Naqba, Sari Hanafi suggests the term spaciocide to depict such a total erasure of collective human memory in space and its total restructuring. The Naqba as a crime against humanity goes beyond an ethnic cleansing, however, the term genocide would not apply either. The particularity of the Palestinian tragedy unfolded mainly after the initial act of cleansing and manifested itself primarily through a set of state initiated spatial policies.
May a term borrowed from a particular form of nation-building by way of colonizing space, be helpful in addressing the realized and attempted forced spatial transformations in Turkey, particularly in the Republican and post-republican center of Istanbul?
Orhan Esen, a freelance researcher of the built environment in history, will highlight a series of cases from Istanbul's urban trajectory since the mid-19th century to examine the above question. Orhan Esen has lectured and led educational excursions around Istanbul for several Columbia faculty and student groups in programs hosted by the Columbia Global Center in Istanbul.