Zülal Nazan Üstündağ
Assistant Professor Department of Sociology at Boğaziçi University
A Travel Guide to the East of the Empire
Various populations have inhabited the eastern lands of contemporary Turkey. They have imprinted themselves on the materiality and the dreamscapes of the geography only to be uprooted by violence and atrocity. As a result, eastern Turkey is composed of a landscape dominated by evacuated villages, deserted pastures and burnt down forests. Barren mountains hosting insurgents on foot are bombed everyday by F-16s. They conjure up memories. “Armenians were the breakfast, we are the dinner” people say evoking an image of obscene obesity when referring to the state. Peace has not arrived to these lands since the beginning of the century.
This paper aims at articulating violence and narrating war through the genre of the travel guide. It adopts three different voices: The guide, the tourist and the theorist. The dialogue between these three voices enables the articulation of trauma as an affect of violence mediated by the materiality of land, bodies and words. The genre of the travel guide is not an arbitrary choice. Nor are these three voices. These enforce themselves on the person who wants to talk about the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. People in eastern Turkey just like in the west are fond of speaking through the idiom of travel and tour when they relate to strangers. They want to show places, and sites, people and buildings. The idiom of travel insures a common ground for communication between those who are insiders and those who are outsiders, torn apart from one another by real war as much as by the symbolic wars of history.
I would also claim that living in the nation-states inhabiting the former territories of the Empire often only be expressed by means of a travel genre. This is not because post-Ottoman Empire is characterized by numerous population exchanges and exiles. Violence in east, south and west alike also makes even a short trip a high ordeal through id checks and cross police barriers, endowing any movement with a sense of insecurity, adventure and unpredictability.