Ebru : Reflections on Cultural Diversity in Turkey


Ebru : Reflections on Cultural Diversity in TurkeyThis “impossible dream”, turned successively into an “ambitious project” and a “quest”, lasted seven long years and was made possible by several foundations, associations and corporate entities in Turkey and elsewhere. No less than twenty-three authors offer their comments. The resulting book is monumental not only in size (450 pages, 31 x 29 cm) but above all par the sociological and political meaning of the underlying research.

As a matter of fact, to illustrate through photographs and texts that today’s Turkish population is composed not only of a majority of Sunni Muslims, but also of a multitude of other ethnic and religious groups, was tantamount to political provocation in the country’s current political context.

Picture this: the book shows the Turkish ethnic mosaic, made of Alevis, Jews, Armenians, Christian Arabs, Greek and Bulgarian immigrants, Koz aks, Circassians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Sunni Turkmens, Cretans, Azeris, Georgians, Alevi Kurds and Sunni Kurds, Kyrgizs, Albanians and Bosnians, Roms, Yazidis, Germans settled in the East (dubbed “the kartofeln”, the potatoes) and Poles settled near Istanbul in the village called Polonezköy (“the Polish village”). A true lesson in geography and history, as a large part of the Turkish population is rooted in the vast Ottoman Empire.

Lets think that the trial of the killers of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, accused by ultra-nationalist groups to be a traitor to the Turkish nation, is unfolding this year in Istanbul. A trial where the murderer, who admitted to the facts but who is known to be steered by well organised groups, was brought to the court in a prison van bearing a sticker saying “love it or leave it” about Turkey. In such a context, the Ebru project is all the more courageous and worthy of attention.

Comments by the author, the editor and writers illustrate the sense of the project:

Attila Durak : “This story would be about the colors of Turkey – together with the lost hues, and those that are being added. This testimony could only be uncovered and brought forth in these images through the participation of its subjects, who shared their daily lives with the photographer. I wanted to tell a story that would be about “today”, yet would also reflect the sorrows of yesterday and the hopes of tomorrow. The photographs of this book reflect a diversity that is rooted in different cultural identities, while underlying the common thread of our humanity”.

Ayse Gül Altinay : “ ‘Ebru ‘ as a metaphor, which neither starts no rends with this book, represent the search for alternatives to the limited perspectives of assimilation and multiculturalism alike.” (Note: “Ebru” in Turkish names a traditional drawing and painting technique based on water).

Murat Belge : “This book contains photographs of men and women, old and young alike, living in Turkey, who come from various ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and identities, and are the natural product of a specific history ». Ce livre contient des photographies d’hommes et de femmes, jeunes et vieux, vivant en Turquie, qui proviennent d’ethnies, de racines religieuses et d’identités diverses, et qui sont le produit naturel d’une histoire spécifique“.

Elif Shafak : “Much has changed from the Ottoman past to the Republic era in this country. What has remained the same is the face denied to the ordinary people. The photographs that circulated in the 1920s and 1930s were important visual instruments for the new regime to create its own iconography. Energetic girls, muscular young men, the body an extension of the nation, the body a uniform. Serious looking and quaffed women in two-piece suits (…) Tuxedoed gentlemen with their top hats and silk handkerchiefs…Despite the many differences, the Ottoman miniatures and the early Republic’s news photography share one thing in common : the absent faces. As individualism is put in the service of the commonwealth, what is emphasized once again is uniformity, rather than diversity“.

Babelmed Editorial Team


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