21 Eylül 2011 Çarşamba

Components of the Public and Memories of the City: A Case Study on Bayburt Clock Tower

Components of the Public and

Memories of the City: A Case Study on Bayburt Clock Tower

Salih Narman, BA

Fatih University

Istanbul, Turkey

The academic sources are various with the relationship between, on one hand, urban planning of public sphere and the people’s apprehension in those spheres and, on the other hand, further political discussions taking off from this topic. We know the public sphere from two different perspectives; first, as it is frequently described as places where powerful signs and discourses exists (Verdery 2000; Foucault 1995) and as a place where the public opinion is shaped (Habermas 1991). Therefore, with the new life–style, in which the masses live interdependently and heterogeniously in a homogenious unit; that is called city (Wirth 1991) requires some sort of competition based royalties and co–operations among the individuals, as well as between an individual and his/her environment. In many ways, this way of living is interrelated to the larger scopes of politics; for instance “Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (2003) links the regimes to the existence possibility of civic organizations”. Then, what we see in the bottom of the societies (their stories, places of living, things that they see and so on) affects the top (the state, policies, institutions etc.).

Therefore, one might call modernity as a product of the society’s natural development which brought economically capitalism and politically nation–states, however, that would be an overgeneralization, especially for those societies of which the social engineering applied for very long periods. We have been seeing this case in Turkey, as well as many others, even before its foundation as Turkish Republic. This “foundation”, there, has a special meaning than just establishing; there is a whole process of de–organization and re–organization of the “things” –our interest here is particularly on the environment– in order to create a nation.

In this paper I do not want to talk about the de–organizations –which are the composed of bloody conflicts–, rather I will focus on the re–organization of lives in a specific area with the impact of “powerful signs”. Namely, the re–organization of the public sphere and relations among the people with the impact of the clock tower, built in early years of Turkish Republic, in Bayburt. I argue that, anything that is done about, for, on, with, by the clock tower in Bayburt has a deeper connection with the creation of new Bayburt citizens who are the members of their nations.

Some might ask what is so special about the poorest and least populated city in Turkey[1] and its tiny old looking clock tower. As a person whose grandparents migrated from Dagestan to Bayburt, I have visited for couple of times my “hometown”[2], the last visit was greatly efficient, in terms of taking pictures and listening some local stories and myths about the pre–World War I period[3], from the words of aged men whom I met mostly in the villages. After my arrival to Istanbul, I had many pictures taken in various sides of the city and few belongs to watch tower, when I was looking at these pictures, I realized something very interesting with this tower. Its shape, function, definition, location, situation, and condition was manifesting far beyond its real being. Therefore, I decided to do select this case study as another step on my journey to cities, meanings and memories.

If the monuments are polyvalent that is to say; if there is polysemy (openness), ambiguity and multivocality in their voiceless existence (Verdery 2000). Then, the individuals have an authority[4] to voice them according to their tacit communications and derive meanings which are particularly model for “the outsiders” or “strangers”. But these, are also modal for the ideal presented to the locals (Anderson 1991). Therefore, these are both strategies and tactics (Certeau 1988), in terms of who use it, in a multi–directional way; the monuments built by the hands of public institutions are located in the public sphere not only for the good view, also on a plan.

From one view, the public sphere is a component of collective consumption (Castells 1983) and power relations (Harvey 2009) and on the other, a battle ground for ongoing struggle between the authorities –by discourses– and, individuals –by resistance–. In Weberian modernization perspective (1946) in a place where people used adjust themselves with sun, clocks can be possibly seen as the products of modernity and, clock towers as the manifestations of this modernity for all. Now let us see how those are connected to the clock tower in Bayburt.

In my explanatory work, I will use interview[5] and content analysis methods to examine how these theories come into scene in a clock tower, because of having proper material.

According to the interviews that I have done with the locals in Bayburt, until the forced departure in 1914, Bayburt was a place where Armenians and Turks lived together. After this period, many “anti–modern” incidents occurred; especially the one by Sheikh Eşref in Hart Village[6] during Turkish independence war took a lot of attention of the newly established government which is later on, constituted Turkish Republic. After the foundation of new government, there was a re–population of the area was needed due to the forced departure of Armenians; therefore a lot of families from Trabzon, Rize, Erzurum and those who migrated from the Caucasus were sent here. In 1924, by the command of Ataturk a clock tower started to build at the center of the city (which is not so big) and on 29 October –the Republican Day– the tower was opened with a ceremony.

This tower is one of the things that you can immediately see in the city, due to city’s under–development, and from the city the tower is seen even before Bayburt Castle, which belongs to pre–Islamic era.

Bayburt Clock Tower

This clock tower, as it is seen from the picture, is shaped as minaret and functioning as a clock, also it is opened on Republic Day. This tells us three things about the interaction between the monument and people.

First, since the distinction in terms of identity was done according to the religion at that time, the image of “Turkishness” or “Muslim” is represented by its shape. By this way, the Armenians’ existence in the past was silenced; it is also showed that, to whom these lands were ‘really’ belonging to.

Secondly, clock took the city itself from the cosmic time to modern time, limited the image of ‘us’ in the minds of the people. While the people use to be getting up with the sun or Morning Prayer, they had all the Muslims in their minds, but now the state was telling to its people that according to what their lives are going to be adjusted and of who they will think of.

Thirdly, the clock itself is a symbol and a representation of improvement (modernity), as I mentioned above. And if the Turkish Republic itself is a modernization project (Mardin 1991) then tower’s opening on Republic Day gives the message that Turkish Republic will improve (and modernize) the city much greater than Ottoman Empire.

To sum up, we have seen how the urban places and monuments can hold, in fact does, capacity to change the public opinion. Besides, as Verdery says for the dead bodies:

…They help us to see political transformation as something more than a technical process…“something more” includes meanings, feelings the sacred, ideas of morality, the non-rational –all ingredients of “legitimacy” or “regime consolidation”…yet far broader than what analyses employing those terms usually provide. (2000: 25)

The public sphere can provide these “things” in their perception, furthermore they promise for the future of the community, which actually does not necessarily come even for years. For the future research on such topics I suggest to look at the other means of re–creation or re–organization of the urban through which a whole body of politics occurs with the scenes from “memories”.


Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Castells, Manuel. 1984. The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Certeau, Michel de. 1988. “Making do: Uses and Tactics” in The Practices of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Harvey, David. 2009. Social Justice and the City. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Mardin, Şerif. 1991. Türk Modernleşmesi. Istanbul, Turkey: İletişim.

Max, H.H. Gerth, C. Wright Mills. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. [1831] 2003. Democracy in America. Issac Kramnick, ed. Gerald Bevan, trans. New York: Penguin.

Verdery, Katherine. 2000. The Political Lives of Dead Bodies. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wirth, Louis. 1957. “Urbanism as a Way of Life” Pp. 46-63 in Paul K. Hatt and Albert J. Reiss Jr., ed. Cities and Society. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

[1] According to Turkish Statistics Institution 2011. See http://www.tuik.gov.tr/

[2] Since the early beginning of my life, me and my family move from one city to another, therefore it is so hard to call Bayburt as my hometown.

[3] The stories were mostly about the Russians who visited Bayburt after 1888-89 Ottoman–Russian war and some other were about Armenian–Turkish conflict.

[4] The meaning here is the power of creation, capability of originating.

[5] The stories told by the locals in my last visit.

[6] A religious leader who struck to the military forces during the Turkish independence war because of one sergeant’s “inappropriate” attitudes and actions. See: http://ahmetturanalkan.net/yazi/hart-vakasi-nedir-seyh-esref-kimdir/

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