Photo: Renk-Mustafa KOÇAK
Karaman'in Sesi archive
Dila-Duru GÜNASLAN 2017
Karamanoğlu Mehmet Bey, Karaman and Turkish
In my hometown in Turkey, in Karaman, Anatolia, on my way to school every day, I would pass a bust located in a small public park. This was originally an old bronze bust, which was later replaced by a fiberglass plastic version installed in another location. Both represented a local historical figure, Karamanoğlu Mehmet Bey, who was the second ruler of the beylik (feudal province) of Karamanoğlu. Inscribed on the bust’s pedestal-also as part of the figurative composition of the statııe-was his famous decree of May 13th, 1277: “From this day henceforth, in the dervish convent, the council, the palace, the parliament, and all public places, no language other than Turkish shall be permitted.” (1)
Since the text is written in Turkish alone, I wondered about those who did not speak the language, questioning the curious logic behind the text: if you didn’t speak Turkish, and if it is not permitted to speak any other language here, then how would you understand the proclamation, given that the information is communicated only in Turkish?
When I was learning how to read, I passed by those words. The meaning has shifted over time, challenging the way I understand public-ness, language, State, and identity. I always felt a kind of thrill as a child when I heard people around me speaking other languages. I remember my grandmother, and the picture of Ali at her house, by the mirror. And the golden maxim from Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib), the first imam after Muhammad: “Do not hate what you do not know, for the greater part of knowledge consists of what you do not know.” (2)
How would they have been punished for their transgression? Other tangents from this question caught my attention too... For me, the park was a perfect example of a conceptual stage requiring neither an actor nor director. It was an installation that performed continuously inside everyday reality. It was a curious stage I had discovered, which invented itself every morning with a new story. The silence in the park was enough for me to dream up situations that somehow challenged the proclamation. Sometimes I would imagine people there in the park, speaking other languages. Although now this might look like the paintings done by our whole elementary school class on April 23rd, National Children’s Day, with a motif of the Earth and many children holding hands around it, or a Benetton campaign from the nineties, it was more than just a childhood fantasy back then. It was the instinctive, natural response of a young child, a pure mind, to the political atmosphere in Turkey in the eighties. Spending time alone in that park, in front of that bust, inspired me to understand where I lived, and what had happened there-to understand what was going on...
In 1928, on a personal initiative, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established a 29- letter Latin alphabet to be used for Turkish, and took one of his biggest risks in public education. Overnight, the number of literate people in the country radically dropped, but, within a few years, mobilization of the alphabet reestablished Turkish reading and writing. I grew up with a grandmother who did not read and write the Latin alphabet, while much later I confronted the fact that I couldn’t read and research many resources in our public libraries and archives. Mine was not the only such case.
Revisiting some motifs from Özdamar’s Mutterzunge, this research project will revisit that bust from my childhood, among others’, as well as the anecdotes, memories, and stories of our participants on further issues.