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13.30  Heritage and Hospitality: Activists as Uninvited Guests to the Heritage Table

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9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Hospitality and hostility stems from the root word “hostis,” which could mean guest or host, friend or enemy. Hostis, according to French linguist Emile Benveniste, “originally involved someone in an equal, reciprocal relationship demanding trust, a laying down of one's weapons, a conversion of hostility into hospitality.” Heritage advocacy groups and activists have been employing carefully curated tactics and strategies in order to reclaim heritage or use heritage as a main argument for reclaiming space. Activists most often appear to intervene in an immediate conflict or crisis moment or simply setting a civic heritage agenda and implementing it.  

This paper will explore how heritage activists in two cases from Turkey have been setting the scene and getting involved in the heritage narratives. The first case is on the Bostans (Edible garden plots) of Yedikule which are located on the area between Yedikule Kapi and Belgrad Kapi alongside Byzantium period Theodisious land walls on Istanbul's European side in the district of Fatih. The Yedikule Bostans, which are surrounded by the fifth-century city walls, have been of agricultural importance ever since the Byzantine Empire. Nowadays, the farms provide a living for approximately about fifty families that get by on what they are harvesting out of the Bostans as well as pay the rent with their earnings since the grounds belong to the Fatih Municipality of Istanbul. Following an urban renewal project, in 2013, part of the gardens has been destroyed by covering it with rubble in the course of construction plans for restaurants and cafes. This construction has been stopped by a group of activists who organized and formed an advocacy group to defend and restore the area and also inspired other initiatives both for the same area and other areas in similar situations. Volunteers of the Yedikule platform, who prefer not to be called activists yet just by definition of their action, perform as activists and are defending the co-existence of different components of the bostan: as an active farm land, bostan keepers, archeological remains and other artifacts that are in the area to be conserved and maintained as a living whole. A small group of professionals, who are not living or working in the area per se but interested in the area initially with professional motives and further motivated with an ongoing threat of disappearance.  

The second case is Earth tables, a communal fast break that stresses modesty and conviviality while eating on the floor (covered with newspaper) in a public area during Ramadan. Earth iftar which was born right after Gezi Protests in 2013, Taksim Istanbul, with a call from anti-capitalist Muslims like some of the other practices (public forums, squats, occupying public spaces to create garden plots, etc.) continued long after the Gezi Park occupation. With its simple, yet strong message of the community that reclaimed a tradition, opening the practice to the public (to those that were not fasting as well), the anti-capitalist Muslims made a strong political argument by presenting this modest way of practicing religion, and being inclusive by breaking bread together with the heterogeneous crowds that were formed during the Gezi protests.  

Actions of these activist groups, which are being analyzed at a multi-sited ethnography, materially analyze, paralyze and catalyze heritage processes. By using Michel Serres' concept of parasite as a guide within the framework of heritage and activism this paper thus will investigate how activism catalyzes heritage processes. Serres presents parasites as abusive agents where in some ways they contribute to the system positively by catalyzing a change. His use of the concept of parasite, which also means static in French, resonates with these activist agents acts of disturbing and replacing the current practices of heritage, even momentarily.

Evren Uzer


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