Watch John Lubbock's ‘Istanbul: The Politics of Architecture’

The old Greek Orphanage on Buyukada/Prinkipo island near Istanbul. Screenshot from Istanbul: The Politics of Architecture by John Lubbock

The old Greek orphanage on Buyukada/Prinkipo island near Istanbul. Screenshot from Istanbul: The Politics of Architecture by John Lubbock

John Lubbock, the author of a recent post on Global Voices about construction, over-development and gentrification in Turkey, returns to the theme in a fantastic self-produced documentary tapping the rich seams of Istanbul's multicultural history, and reflecting on the city's increasingly monocultural future.

Here Lubbock describes Istanbul:The Politics of Architecture in his own words.

Since the first time I came to Istanbul, I've been interested in the design of the city, its built environment and the way people interact with that. It's so different to London, where I come from. And compared to Western Europe, there are many Ozymandias-like remnants of fallen empires scattered around the city. I wanted to find out more about the history of these cultural remnants, and what the current construction boom means for Turkish society. In this, I've been influenced by my understanding of psychogeography and its tradition, which sees time as a landscape. Here is the author Alan Moore's definition of psychogeography:

“In its simplest form I understand psychogeography to be a straightforward acknowledgement that we, as human beings, embed aspects of our psyche…memories, associations, myth and folklore…in the landscape that surrounds us.”

So my intention was to find out what the architecture of Istanbul says about the architecture of the Turkish psyche, both past and present, and what we can learn about Turkish culture and politics as a result.

I am doing another project about the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and the responses to this event within Turkish society. There will be a lot written about this event, on April 24, and it seems to me that it's important to understand how this history is viewed within Turkey, given that the objective of most Armenian groups is for the Turkish state to recognise that the events of 1915 constitute a genocide as we now understand the term. What are the political, psychological and social obstacles to this recognition and the inter-cultural reconciliation which it could lead to? These are really interesting questions for someone like myself who is interested in how we avoid repeating the mistakes that led to so much suffering in the past.

I am sure there are Turkish nationalists, as well as some Armenian groups, who wouldn't agree with my analysis of these questions, but the most important thing is to have a conversation about how the past has affected the world today, rather than brushing these psychological wounds under the carpet of history, where they are not likely to stay hidden for long.

The complete documentary can be watched here:



    The trouble with your approach to psycho-geography is that it is one-sided. You seem to prefer to look at the items and artifacts of one side (Armenians and Greeks and other Christians) but ignore others (Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Bosnians, and other Muslims). [1]

    Case in point: I am the son of Turkish survivors from both paternal and maternal sides. My father was the sole survivor of the village of KIRLIKOVA—hence my family name—where the entire Turkish population of the village (along with four neighboring Turkish villages
    [2] ) were exterminated by Bulgarian and Greek irregulars, helped by Ottoman-Armenian cadets from the Armenian military academy nearby whom you can see if you click on here, [3], arrogantly brandishing their Russian-made Mosin rifles in the Armenian
    Military Academy of Bulgaria, as early as 1906. Did you make any attempts to study the “psycho-geography of KIRLIKOVA” in Northern Greece today, featuring razed Turkish homes,
    destroyed mosques, water fountains, hamams (Turkish baths)?

    My mother’s family was also decimated but those who could escape the atrocities by marching with bare feet through freezing mud of the Balkans made it to safety in Turkey. Did you make an attempt to see the “psycho-geography of Bulgaria, Greece, and other Balkan countries” featuring ruins of what used to be Ottoman government facilities, schools, mosques, hamams, water dispensing public kiosks, Turkish homes, and more?

    So, where is my pain in your psycho-geography work?

    Have you made any attempts to study the psycho-geography on Ottoman legacy in 30+ countries where Ottoman Empire once ruled? Starting with Balkans (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungary, and more) , go up around the Black Sea (Moldavia, Ukraine, southern Russia, Crimea) and come down the other (the Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and more) then travel south (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, former Palestine which includes Israel and Palestinian lands, and more) come
    around the Mediterranean (Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Midilli, and many other island) and finally cover North Africa from Egypt on the East to Marocco in the West and Sudan in the South?

    All we hear is Armenians, Armenian, Armenians… When are we going the get the tiniest bit of
    semblance of fairness from you and others like you?

    Where is the Turkish pain in your studies?

    Where is the Muslim pain?

    And where is Armenian complicity in the 1915 events? Where are Armenian terrorism, revolts, raids, assassinations, sabotages, and other wartime treason, [4]

    In a landmark decision, ECHR unequivocally supported the above position in its Dec17, 2013 verdict on Perincek vs Switzerland that “[t]he existence of a ‘genocide’, which was a precisely defined legal concept, was not easy to prove”. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) added: “doubted that there could be a general consensus… given that historical research was, by definition, open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths”. Thus, the ECHR created a legal precedent of inadmissibility of any comparison between the Holocaust and the Armenian claims; the latter lacks what the former clearly has: concrete historical facts, clear legal
    basis, and existence of the “acts had been found by an international court to be clearly established”. [5]

    Turks, because of their culture, grieve through their trauma silently and may not exactly scream in your face or pound your kitchen table with their shoes, like Armenians. This dignified silence of the Turkish victims of Armenian atrocities, however, should not be interpreted as admission of guilt for crimes not committed. [6-16]



    Son of Turkish survivors from both paternal and maternal sides



    [1] Pope, Stephen, Wheal Elizabeth-Anne, The MacMillan Dictionary of the First
    World War, MacMillan Reference Books, London, 1995, page 34.

    [2] McCarthy, Justin, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims,
    1821-1922, The Darwin Press, Princeton, 1995, page 140.

    [3] Houshamatyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Centennial, Album-Atlas,
    Volume I, Epic Battles, 1890-1914, The Next Day Color Printing, Inc., Glendale, CA, U.S.A., 2006, page 185.

    [4] Nalbandian, Louise, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian , Political Parties through the 19th Century. Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1963.

    [5] Responding to Armenian allegations: Pulat Tacar, ret. Co-Chairperson of the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO (1995–2006) and Maxime Gauin. researcher at the
    International Strategic Research Organization, Ankara and a PhD candidate at the Middle East Technical University.

    [6] Papazian, K.S. Patriotism Perverted, Boston, Baikar Press, 1934.

    [7] Katchaznouni, Hovhannes, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Has Nothing to Do Anymore (1955), available at:

    [8] Gunter, Michael M.,Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People: A Study of Contemporary , Armenian Terrorism, New York: Greenwood, 1986.

    [9] McCarthy, Justin. The Turk in America: Creation of an Enduring Prejudice. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah, 2010.

    [10] Ataov, Turkkaya, Armenian Falsifications, Okey Enterprises, Inc., New York, 2008

    [11] Feigl, Erich. A Myth of Terror: Armenian Extremism, Its Causes and Its Historical Context , Freilassing, Germany: Edition Zeitgeschichte, 1986.

    [12] Aya, Sukru Server, The Genocide of Truth, Istanbul Commerce Univ. Publications No:25, Istanbul, 2008 and Aya, Sukru Server, The Genocide of Truth Continues…, Derin Yayinlari, Istanbul, 2011

    [13] Lewy, Guenter. The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, Salt Lake City, University of Utah, 2005.

    [14 Uras, Esat, The Armenians in History and the Armenian Question, Documentray Publications, Istanbul, 1988

    [10] Güclü, Yucel, The Holocaust and the Armenian Case in Comparative Perspective, Univ. Press of America, Lanham, MD,2012

    [15] Erickson, Edward, Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency, Palgrave McMillan, New York, 2013

    [16] Gürün, Kamuran, The Armenian File, The Myth of Innocence Exposed, Rustem, Nicosia,

    • valarmorgulis

      See, this is your problem. He is not saying turkish did not suffer pain in otehr locations. He is strictly talking about the armenian case?
      Is that a problem? why? Why do you have to point out other people suffereing to defend yourself?
      Your answer is the proof of why turkish need to analyze their history and their mistakes. Because it seems a huge atack on them everytime that somebody mention the armenian genocide

      • uhuvvetperver

        Ergun Efendi, please note moreover this documentary was strictly on Istanbul and not on other areas of the Ottoman Empire. No one is trying to take away the pain your family has lived through. Would this documentary have been on Salonica, I am sure the director would have dealt at length with the eviction of the Muslim and Dönme population.
        Yet, the essentialist attitude the following sentence reveals, make me doubt that have understood anything at all:

        “Turks, because of their culture, grieve through their trauma silently
        and may not exactly scream in your face or pound your kitchen table with
        their shoes, like Armenians.”

  • ASUK

    Responding to Armenian allegations: Pulat Tacar, ret. Co-Chairperson of the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO (1995–2006) and Maxime Gauin. researcher at the
    International Strategic Research Organization, Ankara and a PhD candidate at the Middle East Technical University.…/… .This is a one sided approach and does not help solve the conflict.

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