Imperial Daydreaming: Disentangling Contemporary Ottoman Nostalgia in Turkey

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Imperial Daydreaming: Disentangling Contemporary Ottoman Nostalgia in Turkey

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This dissertation investigates Ottoman nostalgia in Turkey, a dynamic process observed in two forms: State-sponsored populist neo-Ottomanism exemplified in rallies and museums, and the Ottomania—the popular cultural fascination with the Ottoman past—observed in leisure activities. Turkey’s early-twentieth-century foundational premise was the dramatic rejection of the Ottoman past, best signaled by the abolishment of the Arabic script and banning religious garb in State institutions. Today this regime has been replaced by that of the authoritarian populist Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Where the early Republican regime attempted to root Turkey’s origins in ethnicity rather than religion, the AKP mines Ottoman history and symbolism as a central source of legitimacy. To unpack the ways Ottoman nostalgia is produced, mobilized and contested, I employ a multi-method qualitative research design: 1) Ethnographic fieldwork in the Panorama History Museum of Conquest in Istanbul, and the Commemoration of the Conquest, both powerful sites of state-led neo-Ottomanism. 2) Textual analysis of the popular television show Magnificent Century, the best-known vehicle of the popular cultural Ottomanian fever, and its state-produced counterpart Resurrection Ertugrul, and 3) Interviews in six diverse cities, exploring how ordinary people make sense of both state-led and popular manifestations. Rather than focusing on one level – state, society, or popular culture, this project brings together state-led endeavors, popular culture, and their audience reception. This highlights the interactions among them, and shows how political efforts are contested and how different groups ‘buy in’ to these to different degrees. I found that that the bombastic spectacles of the AKP may have sacralized the Ottoman past, but their claims to a second Muslim “re-conquest” have pushed a segment of the population in Turkey to question the “emotional manipulation” of politicians “exploiting” this holy past. In line with this, people who were followers of lighthearted Ottomania chose to move away from Ottoman nostalgia altogether. I argue that neo-Ottomanism has coopted Ottomania, a potential, light-hearted cosmopolitan engagement with the Ottoman past, and made it “his,” by hardening its fluid boundaries into rigid heteronormative, and overly self-assured categories.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2020. Major: Sociology. Advisor: Teresa Gowan. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 231 pages.

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Karakaya, Yagmur. (2020). Imperial Daydreaming: Disentangling Contemporary Ottoman Nostalgia in Turkey. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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