Preservation under the crescent and star : using new sources for examining the historic development of the Balat District in Istanbul and its meanings for historic preservation



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The purpose of this dissertation is to identify various sources hitherto neglected by the field of historic preservation in Turkey, and to seek possible ways in which they can be incorporation into this field. As demonstrated by the case study chosen for this dissertation--the Balat District in Istanbul--the use of these sources fosters a richness of perception which today is lacking in historic preservation in Turkey. The dissertation begins with the hypothesis that historic preservation in Turkey was used to legitimize the constructed reality of the new Turkish Republic. Since the Republic represented everything the Ottoman Empire was not, it had to be purged of its Ottoman inheritance, including the Empire's institutions and its diverse, non-Muslim population. Istanbul's urban fabric, however, bore unmistakable marks of both. While the eradication of these marks was never a declared policy, the net effect of the Republic's actions was essentially to have that result. A heightened awareness of the neglected sources mentioned above may help obviate the ways in which history has been rewritten, and may also help us develop preservation policies which provide a richer, more complex and multi-ethnic reading of Balat's--and ultimately Istanbul's--past. In the case of Balat, in contrast to the relatively few sources used by preservation authorities (mainly old photographs and historic maps) stand a vast array of sources that typically go unnoticed. Among these are Byzantine records, Ottoman governmental records, Islamic court records, rabbinical records, church records, etc. In practice, a neighborhood preservation project would ideally use most of these sources. To make the current study manageable, however, I will focus specifically on Islamic court records. During my fieldwork in Istanbul, I scanned roughly 4,300 court records (covering the period from 1800 to 1839) to identify cases pertinent to the built environment. The 1198 cases that I identified provide a wealth of information related to building types, ownership patterns, commercial activity, demographics, mobility, etc.--information which helps us reconstruct the lifestyle of Balat's residents, and ultimately aids in the rendering of a multi-faceted narrative of the District's urban history.