"Çaylı’s first monograph offers provocative insights, challenging both official orthodoxies and the ethics of academic practice. The former makes it indispensable to those interested in state formation processes, violence, trauma and memory studies, and the Middle East. The latter makes it required reading for all humanities when the need for scholarly self-reflexivity is so pressing."—Zeynep Kezer, Turkish Studies
"Bold and original, Victims of Commemoration charts important new territory for the field of memory studies. It offers a fascinating ethnographic study of three Turkish sites of political violence and focuses especially on the shaping role of space and architecture. In this theoretically rich work, Eray Cayli argues convincingly that commemoration is not just a response to violence—it is often entangled with violence itself, a continuation of the very conflict that we think we’re merely remembering."—Michael Rothberg, author of The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators
"What is the relationship between an event of historical violence and its subsequent commemoration? Brilliantly challenging our received understandings of historical representation, Victims of Commemoration analyzes how the violence of the past persists in the formation of public spaces and built environments."—Kabir Tambar, Stanford University
"A brilliant contribution in the wider literatures of violence and trauma, collective memory, commemoration and memorialization, ethno-national identity, and the ethnographies and geographies of each."—Kyle Evered, Michigan State University
"This skillfully narrated account of urban architectural space and the present experience of the past will be of interest to anyone interested in understanding the social life of monuments."—Charles Stewart, University College London
“Confronting the past” has become a byword for democratization. How societies and governments commemorate their violent pasts is often appraised as a litmus test of their democratization claims. Regardless of how critical such appraisals may be, they tend to share a fundamental assumption: commemoration, as a symbol of democratization, is ontologically distinct from violence. The pitfalls of this assumption have been nowhere more evident than in Turkey whose mainstream image on the world stage has rapidly descended from a regional beacon of democracy to a hotbed of violence within the space of a few recent years.
In Victims of Commemoration, Eray Çaylı draws upon extensive fieldwork he conducted in the prelude to the mid-2010s when Turkey’s global image fell from grace. This ethnography—the first of its kind—explores both activist and official commemorations at sites of state-endorsed violence in Turkey that have become the subject of campaigns for memorial museums. Reversing the methodological trajectory of existing accounts, Çayli works from the politics of urban and architectural space to grasp ethnic, religious, and ideological marginalization.
Victims of Commemoration reveals that, whether campaigns for memorial museums bear fruit or not, architecture helps communities concentrate their political work against systemic problems. Sites significant to Kurdish, Alevi, and revolutionary-leftist struggles for memory and justice prompt activists to file petitions and lawsuits, organize protests, and build new political communities. In doing so, activists not only uphold the legacy of victims but also reject the identity of a passive victimhood being imposed on them. They challenge not only the ways specific violent pasts and their victims are represented, but also the structural violence which underpins deep-seated approaches to nationhood, publicness and truth, and which itself is a source of victimhood. Victims of Commemoration complicates our tendency to presume that violence ends where commemoration begins and that architecture’s role in both is reducible to a question of symbolism.
Eray Çaylı is the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the European Institute at the London School of Economics.
6 x 9, 264 pages, 39 black and white illustrations, 4 maps