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Rethinking Authoritarian Politics Through Commemoration Following Turkey’s July 2016 Coup Attempt

Timur Hammond

ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, April 2022

Timur Hammond

Timur Hammond

In July 2016, a coup attempt in Turkey helped to precipitate a series of far-reaching transformations. Government officials claimed that these transformations both represented the will of and were justified by the heroism of the ‘nation’ (millet), an ostensibly self-evident and pre-given political actor.

Rightly criticized as symptomatic of an authoritarian politics in contemporary Turkey, these celebrations of the ‘nation’ raise an urgent question: How and where is the nation made ‘common’ (ortak) in the first place? To answer this question, this paper examines the forging of a new memorial public in relation to the events of July 2016.

I make two connected arguments. First, this new memorial public involves not just the claiming of public space but the circulation of images and tropes between many sites of memory. Second, focusing on this memorial public helps us understand how commemoration operates in authoritarian contexts. Instead of being simply a top-down imposition, memorial publics – and the ‘nation’ they underpin – are formed through uneven linkages and affiliations.

Drawing on both discourse analysis and landscape observations, this article enriches our analysis of politics in Turkey today and sketches out one approach for an expanded interchange between geographies of memory and geographies of populism and authoritarianism.