Professor Cemal Kafadar and CMES Phd student Aleksander Shopov discuss historic preservation efforts in Istanbul

September 13, 2013

Harvard History PhD graduate Clare Gillis recently interviewed CMES PhD student Aleksander Shopov and Professor Cemal Kafadar for an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on efforts by scholars for historical preservation in Istanbul:

Another construction project approved in June is the razing and redevelopment of the Yedikule gardens. Yedikule means "seven towers," for the Ottoman-era turrets in the surrounding city walls.

The gardens are on a narrow stretch of land along the fifth-century city walls, where lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes grow in graceful terraces under the shade of fig and mulberry trees. The 200 or so acres, irrigated from a series of Ottoman-era stone wells, yield tons of produce, sold all over the city.

"It is the largest and oldest example of continuously farmed urban agriculture in the world," says Aleksandar Sopov, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University studying Ottoman agricultural techniques. Under the redevelopment plan, it is set to become a public park, with non-fruit-bearing trees, benches, playgrounds, and an artificial river.

When Mr. Sopov learned of the planned destruction, he found a document from 1733 that listed the holdings of the garden. He and his dissertation adviser, Cemal Kafadar, joined with other historians to begin making a case against redevelopment to reporters and eventually to the Greater Municipality of Istanbul.


"The government always refers to the glorious Ottoman past, the glorious history of Istanbul, but I'm not sure they really understand history," says Mr. Börekçi. "History here always feels of ideological manipulation."

Harvard's Mr. Kafadar expands on that. "Erdogan and his advisers privilege 'our' heritage—Turkish, Muslim—to some extent overlooking the class, ethnic, and religious diversity that characterized the Ottoman Empire," he says.

For example, the 1733 document that Mr. Sopov found shows that nearly all the original farmers of Yedikule were from Macedonia. Preserving that history, the scholars argue, preserves the knowledge of that diversity.

Read the full article here: