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Hakan Tarhan


Hakan Tarhan is a Cultural Heritage Postdoctoral Fellow in the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA) in Turkey. He received his PhD in Analysis and Management of Cultural Heritage program from IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca (Italy) in 2022. In his PhD research he investigated relationships between official heritage discourses and people’s perceptions of heritage by focusing on the Ottoman Heritage in Greece and the Byzantine Heritage in Turkey. As a postdoctoral fellow, he continues his research on public perceptions of heritage and archaeology through implementing digital research methodologies and social media analysis. He previously took part in the BIAA’s Aspendos Cultural Heritage Management Project (2014 and 2016), and he has been working as a heritage researcher in the Konya Regional Archaeological Survey (KRASP) project since 2020.

Public Perceptions of the Byzantine Heritage in Turkey

Utilizing past and its material remains for political purposes has been a prevalent practice for states; a phenomenon that has its roots in antiquity and is still commonly used. Modern states have been active agents in this process by defining what constitutes their ‘national identity’ and ‘national heritage’. The distinctiveness of a nation, its ‘national identity,’ was to be found in its history and cultural elements; therefore, investigating the ‘roots’ of their nation became a primary object of modern nation-states. The pursuit of discovering the nation’s ‘glorious past’ also included ‘adaptation’ of the facts or even ‘invention’ of them in case of their absence. In the meantime, it also brought together the exclusion of the pasts and their remains that are ’dissonant’ with the national historiography, thus resulting in the deliberate and non-deliberate destruction of ‘the Other’s’ heritage. Due to their attachment to public memory, historical monuments were the most affected subjects of these processes.

Within this context, this study investigates the historical and contemporary public perceptions of the Byzantine heritage in Turkey, by focusing on two particular aspects of ‘public’: the state and the people. In order to examine its inclusion/exclusion within the official heritage discourses, cultural heritage laws in Turkey and the state’s cultural policies with regard to the Byzantine heritage were critically analysed. People’s perceptions were investigated through public opinion surveys conducted in two case studies, namely Trabzon and İznik, aiming to discover to what extent these particular heritages have been incorporated into the daily lives and personal identities of their contemporary communities.

In summary, the research shows that people’s and state’s perceptions of ‘the Other’s’ heritage are interrelated and mostly governed by the state’s policies. In Turkey, the state’s decades-long tourism-oriented heritage perception has also reflected on the people’s perceptions of heritage. Like heritage of different civilizations, Byzantine heritage in Turkey has also been evaluated by the public according to its touristic value and economic potential. Its ‘otherness’ is still reflected in Turkish people’s opinion, but the general official policy of acceptance and the potential benefits associated with these heritage assets positively affect the local communities’ approach to Byzantine heritage in Turkey. On the other hand, the nationalist and populist discourses which gained a robust political ground within the last decades have led to tangible outcomes negatively affecting the appreciation, preservation, uses and public access of Byzantine monuments in Turkey.