EUME Berliner Seminar
Wed 05 May 2021 | 17:00–18:30

Nationalism on the Shop Floor: Silahtarağa Power Plant and Istanbul Electricity Company, 1919-1939

Nurçin Ileri (EUME Fellow 2020-22), Chair: Erol Ülker (Işık University / EUME Fellow 2015/16)

Silahtarağa Workers, 1932 © Huseyin Inan Personal Collection
Silahtarağa Workers, 1932 © Huseyin Inan Personal Collection

This talk explores the transformation of workforce and multinational enterprise of Silahtarağa, the first urban scale power plant of Istanbul which started to operate in 1914. Following a long-term political and economic turmoil caused by wars, migration flows and rise of nationalism, the Republican regime aimed at Turkification of the workforce to get multinational corporation of the Electricity Company under control. In the meantime, Turkish-Muslim workers, as the ‘privileged’ citizens of the nascent nation, collaborated with the regimes agenda in the workplace by adopting xenophobic language against foreign and local ‘non-Muslim’ workers. In a period when industrial space functioned as a site of discursive struggles on nation, class, and citizenship, ‘non-Muslim’ and foreign workers were systematically purged from the workforce based on their ethnic and religious affiliations. Following the purges, the nationalization of the Electricity Company in 1938 resonated as the “homeland’s salvation” that the regime and the Turkish workers cooperated for the national industrial development with love, devotion, and resilience. By adopting a micro-historical perspective on the interactions between Silahtarağa workers, the Republican regime, and the Electricity Company, this talk offers some insights to understand the rise of the Turkish working-class and Turkish economic nationalism.

Nurçin İleri is a EUME fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in 2020/22, associated with IGK Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History (re:work) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her dissertation focused on the social and material geographies of night in late Ottoman Istanbul. She has taught at Binghamton University, Boğaziçi University, and Işık University, and worked as an assistant coordinator at the Boğaziçi University Archives and Documentation Center. She continues to work on the history of science and technology, environmental history, and archival and cultural heritage studies in the late Ottoman Empire and Turkey.  Currently, İleri studies on the history of electrification in the late Ottoman and early Republican Istanbul (1876-1939). She questions how the electricity network of artifacts, knowledge, labor, and political ideologies reinforced new hierarchies and inequalities in institutions, in the city’s natural and built environment and in daily life. İleri is also one of the editors of the TRAFO blog series Factory Reloaded.

Erol Ülker is a faculty member at Işık University, Department of International Relations. Ülker obtained his BA in International Relations from Istanbul University (1999). He holds two MA degrees from the Political Science and International Relations Department of Boğaziçi University (2003) and the Nationalism Studies Program of the Central European University (2004). He received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 2013, with a dissertation entitled ‘Sultanists, Republicans, Communists: The Turkish National Movement in Istanbul, 1918–1923’. Ülker was a EUME Fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in 2015/2016. He is a member of the administrative board of the Social History Research Foundation of Turkey – TÜSTAV. His research interests include nationalism, migration, socialist and communist movements, and labor politics in Ottoman and Turkish history.


In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually via ZOOM. Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on SoundCloud.

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