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Seeding the Turkish Republic: From Sunflowers to Stray Cats

Panel VI-22, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • My research is a survey of early-Republican era press in Turkey regarding bohçacı women, or itinerant women peddlers. Using a range of newspapers, primarily published in Istanbul, I ask how changing popular depictions of bohçacı women indicated broader societal reconsiderations of the role that women occupied in post-Ottoman society – including their labor, gender, and social status. Because bohçacı women’s primary economic role was to enter secluded private spaces and sell the latest goods to women consumers, journalists presented their social mobility as a threat to the shifting gender dynamics of early Republican Turkey. In the 1930s, the criminalization of bohçacı women, who were instrumental to cross-border smuggling economies, reflected both the gendered and economic anxieties of the era. Not only did bohçacı women exist outside of the Republican vision for middle and upper-class consumption, but they were also importing “alien” goods, a concern for nationalist writers when thinking about women’s attire and social practices. Bohçacı women’s fluidity – their ability to move between homes, classes, and borders – threatened more rigid expectations for gender, status, and citizenship during the early Republican period. Republican-aligned portrayals of bohçacı women also implicitly excluded bohçacı women as tastemakers for the Kemalist bourgeoisie. Thus, I ask: How did the profession of being a bohçacı women exist outside of the material and gendered expectations of Republican reform? How did early Republican press depictions of bohçacı women as criminals reflect a broader discourse about what it meant to be a woman citizen of Turkey during this time? Was the late Ottoman state necessarily more tolerant of these popular economies? Consumption, production, and materiality become central to gendering middle- and upper-class Turkish women throughout the 1930s. Concurrently, efforts to police and degrade the visible roles of lower-class bohçacı women highlight how changing class and gender dynamics intertwined and affected one another in the early Republic. By focusing on how the press of this era depicted bohçacı women, I intend to complicate gendered concepts of citizenship in the post-Ottoman world.
  • This paper traces the patterns of name-giving in the Turkish 20th century and relates it with the trajectory of Turkish modernity. Personal names attest the intertwining of political/national realms with the personal realms and negotiate the two. They often reflect personal expectations and hopes and amalgamate them with the national ones. They attest promises of upper mobility, cultural change, move from the periphery to the center, appeals of urban life and incorporation to the Turkish national modernity. Gender codes also apply. Whereas male names articulate nationalistic affinities, female names more likely revolve around the personal terrain addressing goodwill, optimism and bright prospects. This paper uses an extensive data. Graduates (their names) of a dozen of Turkish high schools within a time span of a century has been gathered (besides other supplementary sources; literary references, memoirs and newspapers clippings). These schools are categorized as schools catering for upper classes and schools catering to middle classes. It shows the diffusion of new names of the republic among the new urban middle classes within a surprisingly short span of time. This data also shows many other clear patterns of name giving. Demonstrating the trends in name-giving practices through decades, the paper offers an entwined cultural, social and political history of modern Turkey shown at the very personal level. Thus it aims to contribute to the modern Turkish cultural history. It follows the recent approach in the (bottom-to-top) Turkish republican historiography that renounces the statist paradigm and underlines the agency of the people (in its socio-cultural plurality and transformation) vis-a-vis the state and demonstrate the salient role the people played as willing participants to the Turkish national modernity project (and not passive onlookers).
  • In 2023, the blanket of yellow sunflowers which extends across the Aegean and Marmara Regions of Turkey constitutes an expected and unsurprising topographical feature along the interstates between Istanbul, Tekirdağ, Çanakkale, and Izmir. The seed-oil industry that these flowers support, however, has an important cold-war history that remains understudied and misunderstood. Agricultural cooperatives in Eastern Thrace such as “Trakya Birlik” and the major export companies present there during the 1960s and 1970s served a growing industry within the context of international competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for developing markets in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In Turkey, agricultural engineers were at the forefront of this economic competition. By analyzing the career of one such agricultural engineer in Turkey, Vasfi Hakman, this paper demonstrates two overlooked aspects of the region’s history in order to make broader claims about the nature of Cold-War politics in Turkey. First, the promotion of soybean-oil production and consumption were a central component of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economic development program in Turkey (or rather, its subsidiary the Foreign Agricultural Service). Second, the importation of pest-resistant and oil-rich sunflower varieties from the Soviet Union provided Turkish farmers with an alternative to soy and olive dependency in Thrace and Anatolia. Together these factors contributed to American anxieties about the future of economic development in Turkey and its market relations with the Soviet Union. Vasfi Hakman provides important insights into the Turkish experience of this period given that he was both the “country representative” for the Soybean Council of America Inc. in Turkey and an accomplished businessman and agricultural entrepreneur in his own right. As such, he willingly adhered to American policies intended to promote soybean-oil dependency throughout the 1860s. However, he and his American partners were well aware of the potential for sunflower oil to provide a much-needed alternative to the limited supply of edible fats in Turkey and in the United States. For this reason, they attempted to develop a booming industry for sunflower-seed oil in Turkey using Russian sunflower varieties while avoiding a complete dependence on the Soviet Union for expertise or supply. As such, this paper shows that partners of American business in Ankara during the heyday of Turkish ‘democracy’ – although flexible in terms of strategy – were ultimately most interested in a set of agricultural policies that would more fully integrate the farmer into global market relations.
  • In the years following the First World War and the subsequent collapse of the Russian and Ottoman Empires, two revolutionary modernizing regimes emerged in their wakes on both the northern and southern shores of the Black Sea. A hallmark of both the nascent Turkish Republic and the Soviet Union’s respective totalistic modernizing projects was the deployment of cutting-edge academic and scientific methods in service of nation-building and the construction of national identity. Bureaucrats and state-affiliated intellectuals in both Turkey and the Soviet Union used structured disciplinary study in the natural and social sciences in order to create new definitions of history, national belonging, and modernity for their fledgling states in the aftermath of the destruction of World War I. These state-sponsored intellectual projects did not take place in isolation from one another; instead, they involved mutually informed intellectual and political processes characterized by cross-border exchanges of ideas, people, and even policies. Informed by this context of transnational intellectual exchange, this paper will address the development and impact of linguistics in nation-building projects in and between Turkey and Soviet Azerbaijan between 1918 and roughly 1940. In doing so, this paper will argue that intellectual exchange between Turkish and Soviet Turkic academics served as an important driver of idea generation for linguists and nation-builders alike on both sides of the Soviet/Turkish border. Examination of this exchange, in turn, can offer important lessons about the nature of top-down nation-building projects in heterogenous post-imperial societies. In order to make this argument, this paper will engage with historiography on the conflicting (albeit often overlapping) approaches to nationalism and nation-building on both sides of the Turkish/Soviet border, as well as that examining Turkic intellectual history and transnational intellectual exchange more generally. The paper’s primary source base includes Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Russian-language periodicals, academic journals, and conference proceedings, particularly those from the 1926 Turcological Congress in Baku. Due to the top-down nature of the alphabet reforms and the intellectual discourse surrounding them in both states, a contextualized close reading of state-sponsored periodicals yields particularly interesting results. Within these sources lie a multitude of insights about the transnational intellectual, political, and cultural relationships influencing the constructions of Turkish, Azerbaijani, and even pan-Turkic national identities in the post-World War I era.