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Session 9: Interplay between media and socio-political dynamics during the birth of the Republic of Turkey

This panel explores how media was used to articulate policy, nationalism and modernization during the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into the Republic of Turkey. Panelists use various archives and libraries to examine how war documentaries, missionary-sponsored films, talkies, press, and literature were used to shape regional media cultures. Their historical investigations engage in multiple dialogues about both 1) media’s role in the transformation of culture from the fall of an imperial era to the rise of a democratic period, and 2) how the transforming socio-political context surrounding the media creates new functions, meaning and purpose.

First, Özde Celiktemel-Thomen explains the establishment and goals of the Military Office of Cinema. The scholar also asks how propagandistic literature and censorship function in relation to film to shape the production and exhibition practices of Ottoman wartime documentaries. Next, Julide Etem investigates how negotiations between Christian missionaries, Turkish government agents, and American agencies developed a media culture of propaganda and diplomacy. Etem argues that missionaries established the groundwork of a transnational infrastructure that aimed to modernize the people in the “Middle East” through institutions, educational programs and nontheatrical film exhibitions. Following this, Özge Özyılmaz explores the history of musical scores of early sound films during the 1930s in relation to nationalism and modernization narrative of the Turkish state. Özyılmaz focuses on collaborations between composers, film directors and state officials to identify the conflict between the desire for Westernization and the anxieties of maintaining a national culture. Finally, Nezih Erdogan argues that the Turkish visual culture is rooted in the literary imagination of poets and novelists of the late Ottoman period. Erdogan examines how visuality becomes a prominent cultural element that reflects photographic and cinematographic images and influenced the first Ottoman film exhibitions.

While there is an increasing scholarship about educational films, war documentaries, sound histories in the context of the US and Europe, there is little in the case of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey and the Middle East. This panel aims to make an intervention at the HOMER conference to bring attention to the new media historiographies of these understudied regions to highlight that media was at the centre of the modernization discourse.

Paper 1 - Özde Çeliktemel-Thomen, Istanbul Şehir University, Wartime documentaries during the First World War (1914-1918).

This paper explores the use of documentaries during the First World War (1914-1918). While the Ministry of War sought to strictly control cinema and other entertainments with the 1914 Censorship Act, its wartime strategies also endorsed filmmaking for propaganda purposes during war years. It was for this end that War Minister Enver Pasa founded the Military Office of Cinema (Merkez Ordu Sinema Dairesi) circa 1914. The Ottoman Army supported the production of several battle field films. The Ottoman Archives indicate that members of the Army and various individuals from students to soldiers and statesman watched these productions for different goals. While this paper traces wartime documentaries in relation to propaganda it also aims to understand the requisites for propagandizing the war cause in two levels: film production and exhibition practices. It will ask what makes a film propagandistic? Do films portraying the battlefield directly serve as propaganda? Do the films function in a similar way tothe propagandistic literature and press during the war years? What do Ottoman wartime documentaries tell us about the First World War? Along with these questions and contextualizing of the period the paper scrutinizes the relation between cinema and propaganda in the backdrop of propagandistic visual culture. In doing so, it makes use of textual sources from state archives and the press along with wartime documentaries themselves.

Bertrand Taithe & Tim Thornton (eds.), Propaganda Political Rhetoric and Identity 1300-2000, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1999).

Eberhard Demm, ‘Propaganda and Caricature in the First World War’, Journal of Contemporary History, 28, 1, (1993): 163-192.

Harold D. Lasswell, Daniel Lerner, Hans Speier (eds.), Propaganda and Communication in World History: The Symbolic Instrument in Early Times, 1 (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii, the East-West Centre, 1979).

John Horne, ‘Public Opinion and Politics’, in John Horne (ed.), A Companion to World War I, (West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing, 2010).

Ross Melnick is associate professor of film and media studies at UCSB. He is the author of American Showman (2012), co-editor of Rediscovering U.S. Newsfilm (2018), and co-founder of Cinema Treasures. He was named an Academy Film Scholar and NEH Fellow for his forthcoming book on Hollywood’s global exhibition operations.

Paper 2 - Jülide Etem, Clark University & Emerson College, Missionaries’ use of film in Turkey: 1932-1952.

This project focuses on the film production and exhibition practices of Christian missionaries in Turkey to explore their collaborations and tensions with the US government and the Turkish state. First, I discuss how missionaries used media technologies to influence minority populations and rural villagers. Second, I explain how missionaries’ use of media made inroads for the US government to further develop a communication network in the region to circulate films about American culture, society and politics. Lastly, I analyze how missionaries’ use of media coincided with policies and practices developed by the Turkish government to circulate educational films and produce state related films. Ultimately, this project shows how the network that missionaries built during the Ottoman Empire era generated a ground for negotiating a transfer of culture with the agents of the American and Turkish governments after the birth of the Republic of Turkey. Missionaries used mobile film units to tour Turkey and exhibit health films (e.g., Personal Hygiene for Young Men), agricultural films (e.g., From Wheat to Bread),religious films (e.g., God of Creation) and entertainment films (e.g., Sniffles Snuffles). These films received interest in public spaces, churches and prisons as both educational and entertainment sources for the mostly illiterate population during the 1930s and 1950s. Indeed, missionaries’ movie tours in Turkey aimed to replace suspicion and mistrust towards the US with confidence and friendship. Missionaries later collaborated with the US government officials to develop a media infrastructure to increase the American prestige in Turkey via nontheatrical and nonfiction films. This collaboration further expanded with the involvement of the Turkish government to establish its own educational film center that promoted nationalism. This study uses multiple archives and libraries such as the National Library in Turkey, the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions collection at Harvard University and the American Research Institute in Turkey.

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Archives, 1810-1961 (ABC 1-91) Houghton Library, Harvard University.

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions / Annual Station Reports, Near East Mission in Turkey Annual Station Reports, 1931-1937. United Church of Christ (UCC), American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT), SALT Research.

Conroy-Krutz, Emily. Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic. Cornell University Press, 2015.

Reeves-Ellington, Barbara. “American Women Missionaries on Trial in Turkey: Religion, Diplomacy, and Public Perceptions in the 1920s.” Diplomatic History 43, no. 2 (2018): 246-264.

Aysehan Jülide Etem is a PhD Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at Indiana University and the recipient of a fellowship from the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University. Her dissertation develops a framework to study film diplomacy and media networks focusing on the US–Turkey relations. She presented at conferences such as Visible Evidence, ICA and HOMER. Some of her work appeared in Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, Review of Middle East Studies, and Rivista Luci.

Paper 3 - Özge Özyılmaz, Ankara Science University, Music Policy, Westernization and Cinema: Musical Scores of Early Turkish Talkies.

This paper tells the story of musical scores of early sound films in Turkey in the1930s. During this time cinema was gradually becoming one of the important components of socio-cultural life, yet domestic film production was still in its infancy. Foreign movies were the main source for the movie theatres in the country. Transition to the sound cinema in Turkey also coincided with the westernization attempts of the newly founded Republic which is today mostly considered as an example of “top-down modernization”. The process was indeed dramatic and conflict-driven and eventually led to an uneven political and socio-cultural atmosphere. Debates surrounding the first Turkish talkies’ musical scores display this tension. In this period, the Kemalist state claimed that traditional Turkish music had simple monophonic melodies, inferior to the Western polyphonic tradition. Composer/conductor Cemal Reşit Rey and Muhsin Ertuğrul ˗acclaimed director of the time whose works is classified as “the single man director” in the cinema history˗ collaborated on domestic films’ musical scores in support of the state’s official ideology. They were in favour of Western classical music. However, several films with classical music soundtrack did not catch enough interest from the audience, which was more fond of folk music. Thus, folk music soundtrack, by and large, overcame the classical ones. Although adapted to the Western mores, film producers had to make a profit, and as a result, they catered to the demands of the audience. Therefore, film producers attempted to create a balance between the actual needs and interest of their audience and the ideals of the political elite. Within this context, the paper will firstly explore how this tension between the desire to keep up with the Western world and anxieties of losing the “national” culture is reflected concerning the sound cinema in Turkey. Secondly, it will criticize the “top-down modernization” narrative by analysing the discussions related to the sound and music of the early Turkish talkies. This paper will provide a solid historical approach to the Turkish state’s modernization ideology and demonstrate that genesis of the sound-era became one area where conflicts emerged due to the use of classical and folkloric music in the Turkish talkies.

Crafton, Donald. “The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition To Sound 1926-1931,” 1999.

Erdogan, Nezih. “The Musical: A Genre That Never Was?” In International Film Musical, edited by Corey Creekmur and Linda Y. Mokdad, 227–38. Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

Aksoy, Bülent. “Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Musiki ve Batılılaşma,” (Music and Westernization from Tanzimat to Republic) n.d., 1212–36.

Gürata, Ahmet. “Tears of Love: Egyptian Cinema in Turkey (1938–1950).” New Perspectives on Turkey 30 (2004): 55–82

Özge Özyılmaz is Assistant Professor at Ankara Science University, Film Design and Directing Department. She has written on film culture in the 1930s and transition to sound cinema in Turkey. She is currently researching on music and sound in the silent era and in early talkies in Turkey.

Paper 4 - Nezih Erdoğan, Istinye University, Istanbul, "If a birdview were possible…” Cinematographic anticipations in literature in the late Ottoman period.

It is widely accepted that the traditional Turkish poetry in the 19th century shifted to a mode “which depended by and large on impressions based on seeing”. Poet and literary historian A. H. Tanpinar cites the case of a poet who, upon seeing his image in a mirror, wrote in a poem the experience of the Lacanian cest moi! moment. Tanpinar argues that this was a first, a turning point in the Ottoman history of culture. Just before the first film screening held in 1896, famous writer Recaizade Ekrem published a novel, which opened with a description, as if instructing a director of photography, of how an Istanbul hill would appear from a certain angle. What are the implications of this shift in terms of visual culture? In this paper, I am going to trace the literary works of the late Ottoman period trying to figure out the ways in which they anticipated moving images. I will first attempt to briefly contextualise it within Turkey’s history of modernisation, then show how visuality became a prominent cultural element.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, 19. Yüzyıl Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi, Dergah.

Gavriel Moses, “Film Theory as Literary Genre in Pirandello and the Film-Novel” Annali d’Italianistica Vol. 6, Film and Literature (1988), pp. 38-68.

Francesco Bozzi, “Literature as Cinematography: Writing Movement in the Modernist Novel” Thesis RMA Comparative Literary Studies, MA Thesis, University of Utrecht, 2015.

Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones and Mary Roberts (eds) Edges of Empire: Orientalism and Visual Culture Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Nezih Erdoğan teaches “Digital Storytelling”, “Screenwriting” and “Film History” at Istanbul Istinye University. He has published articles and book chapters on colonial discourse and sound and body in Turkish popular cinema, the reception of Hollywood in Turkey, censorship and the distribution-exhibition of American films in Turkey. He co-edited with Miyase Christensen Shifting Landscapes: Film and Media in European Context (2009). His book Sinemanın İstanbul’da İlk Yılları/Early Years of Cinema in Istanbul came out in 2018. He is currently working with Ebru Kayaalp on a book edition with the working title: “Exploring Moving Images of the Past in the Digital Age: Forgetting the Archive” forthcoming from Amsterdam University Press in 2021.