Death in the City: Cemeteries of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey


With the advent of modernity, death is excluded from the routines of everyday life. Instead of individual graves which had been included in dwellings and cemeteries located in the vicinity of religious structures in the pre-modern period, mass cemeteries of modern cities are displaced to the margins of urban life. The mobilization of modern administrative power mechanisms mark a breaking point in this process when the body underwent a nationalization process and came to be seen as the possession of the state. Hence, as spiritual functions were divorced from the political realm, death was stripped from its spiritual status and turned into a legal and medical phenomenon. In psychoanalytical terms, the spiritual aspect of death is repressed by the political and administrative machinery of modernity. How does this phenomenon reflect in the politics of the spatialization of death? How are the remains of spirituality articulated with the political and administrative structures and how is this articulation manifested in space? By means of answering these questions, this paper addresses the specific case of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, where the modernization process dates back to the early nineteenth century. Through the analysis of legal and administrative documents, travelers’ accounts and on-site observations we demonstrate how spatial and behavioural propriety of cemeteries were regulated and controlled by administrative power mechanisms and how everyday practices have the potential to disrupt the former.

Author Information
Gülsüm Baydar, Yaşar University, Turkey
Gizem Özmen, Yaşar University, Turkey

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2015
Stream: Humanities - Other Humanities

This paper is part of the ACAH2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon