Karaca, Banu

The Materialities and Legalities of Forgetting: Dispossession and the Making of Turkey’s (Post-)Ottoman Heritage

While art and heritage are often hailed for their capacity to mobilise memory, this chapter examines them as sites at which forgetting is established and maintained both materially and conceptually. The first part of the chapter sketches the expropriation, looting and displacement of artworks in episodes of state violence against non-Muslims in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic. These episodes have not only deprived non-Muslim communities of the vital material resources of cultural reproduction but have also foreclosed pluralistic art histories of Turkey’s Ottoman and post-Ottoman formations, reducing them instead to the homogenous national frame. It is through this national frame that Turkey’s Islamic heritage is generally conceptualised today. The second part of the chapter examines how the absence and forgetting of dispossessed art are mirrored in the legal realm. It shows that art dispossessed in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic fall through the cracks of existing provisions against crimes against humanity, war crimes and the conventions on looted art that have been elaborated by UNESCO and the EU. By illuminating these blind spots, the chapter seeks to contribute to inquiries into historical justice that expand on the narrower focus of restitution as repair.

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