Hollanda Araştırma Enstitüsü  -  Nederlands Instituut in Turkije

Understandings and Use of the "Çanakkale Spirit" Narrative in Contemporary Turkey

Laura Brouwers (Maastricht University)

How does Turkey’s imperial legacy live on in contemporary Turkish politics and society? A complex question which I decided to zoom in on by focusing on one specific event in Turkey’s sizable Ottoman history: the First World War Battle of Çanakkale. One particular interpretation of this Ottoman WWI victory at Çanakkale, namely the notion that it had been a shared ‘fighting spirit’ encompassing a set of beliefs, values, and attitudes that enabled Ottoman soldiers to obtain a victory against all odds over the Allied forces, drew my attention. The absence of works elucidating the use and understanding of this ‘Çanakkale Spirit’ in modern-day Turkey despite its presence in political speech and demonstrable centrality in recent commemorative activities, led me to dive into this subject for my master’ thesis. I did so through a mixed-method content analysis of articles from four establish Turkish online newspapers, collected over a 2-year period.
After graduating with a master’s degree in Arts and Heritage from Maastricht University, the fellowship with the Netherlands Institute in Turkey provided me with a fantastic working environment to convert my master’s thesis into a journal article.
The opportunities that my one-month stay with the NIT in March 2019 offered me reached far beyond desk-top research. I received valuable advice from an audience of NIT staff, Turkish Studies students of Leiden University, and other researchers to whom I presented my work during a seminar organized by the NIT. It was a great experience to be part of the institute’s larger academic network, and establish new connections. The constructive discussions I had with peers during my stay helped me to concretize a topic for my Ph.D. proposal.

Moreover, staying at the NIT in March made it possible for me to finally witness a commemoration of the Çanakkale Naval Battle and Martyrs Day in person. A ‘memory walk’ organized by Turkish NGO Karakutu together with the NIT disclosed a variety of other narratives of the past woven into Istanbul’s urban fabric. The game-like approach in combination with the openness and professionality of the volunteer-narrators made it an engaging, educational experience (and enjoyable/fun without compromising the content). Staying at the NIT residence also allowed me to improve my Turkish language skills by following an intensive, B2-level Turkish course, which I could directly test in practice during every-day interactions.

Hence, I am more than grateful to Fokke Gerritsen and Ülker Sözer - whose door was always open when I wanted to discuss an idea or sought advice - for granting me this wonderful starting point for a career in academic research.