Sculpting the nation in early republican Turkey


  • The author is grateful to the anonymous referees and the editors of Historical Research for their invaluable insights and assistance. He is indebted to Haldun Gülalp and Christopher Houston, whose scholarly inspiration and assistance were of immeasurable help. He would like to extend his special thanks to Meltem Türköz and Mark Shields for their continued support.


Public monuments and statues of Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish republic, are everywhere in modern Turkey. By the time Atatürk died in 1938, hundreds of busts, statues and monuments of him had already been erected in most important public spaces in İstanbul, Ankara and other major cities in Turkey. They exemplify one of the most effective instruments of the elite-driven projects of modernity by revealing the ways in which Atatürk and his political elites attempted to establish a new official public culture and official history. They have been instrumental in the formation and reproduction of Turkish nationalism since the beginning of the Turkish republic. If statuary is accepted in today's Turkey (marking a shift from the perception of figurative forms as something against the Islamic canon) the statues, monuments and busts of Atatürk have played a central role in this. However, they have also dominated open spaces in a way which has prevented city dwellers from constructing local identities through allegorical representations of the history of their cities.