Keepers of Ankara’s memories


by Bernard Kennedy



Long after their novelty wears off, the monuments of any capital city reflect and contribute to the nation's identity and values, its folk memory, social ideology and taste. But at the same time they are the works of artists with beliefs and preferences of their own. How did Ankara get its best bronzeware, and how has it treated it since?



Ankara’s monuments and memorials form an eclectic but unpretentious collection. The images of Turkey's leading citizens and cultural pioneers are preserved as busts more commonly than statues. A range of modest sculptures, plaques and allegorical compositions celebrate and mourn historic moments, pay respects to foreign leaders or remind us of the brave, the good and the beautiful. Most of these, however, stand shyly in the corners of parks, at shady entrances to public buildings - or even inside the buildings.


The city's central thoroughfares contain but a handful of major national monuments such as might suggest to the wider world that it is the capital of a proud nation. Most were erected within little over a decade of the declaration of the Republic. These works strongly influenced the iconography of the new nation-state. And all were created by foreigners.


Krippel’s hero


The Victory Monument at Ulus - also known simply as "The Statue" - was paid for by popular nationwide subscription following a newspaper campaign, and the whole town turned out for is unveiling in 1927. The original specifications (in Turkish and French) foresaw a life-size bronze statue of Atatürk dressed as a civilian president. But the more epic proposal of competition-winning Austrian sculptor Heinrich Krippel proved irresistible.


The founder of the Republic appears mounted, larger-than-life, in marshal's uniform, on a high, multifaceted marble pedestal decorated with scenes from the War of Independence and with rising-sun and tree-of-life motifs. Despite its name, the Monument symbolises not so much victory as national unity of purpose. It watches over the first parliament building, in a neighbourhood named after the "Sovereignty of the People". And substantial complementary statues of two young soldiers and a woman bringing up ammunition form an integral part of the tableau.


Italian classics


In the same year, two sculptures of Turkey's first president were commissioned from Pietro Canonica for the new Victory Square two kilometres south of Ulus, and the gardens of the new Ethnographical Museum. The Italian sculptor's life-size statue of Atatürk in uniform, incorporating the wreaths of victory, is still the focus of Victory Day ceremonies, though the contours of the "square" are barely discernible for town-centre clutter, and the traffic grinds past in either direction within metres of the pedestrian chief commander's curved ceremonial sword. Canonica's mounted Atatürk has a commanding view of Ankara's mid-riff, but is itself hidden from sight in almost all directions.


These were classical works of a style that had long caressed Western eyes. Canonica has well-known monuments to his name in several cities from Rome to Buenos Aires as well as Istanbul and Izmir. Krippel portrayed Atatürk several times, including the classic horseback sculpture in Samsun. Ankara's next monument was to be much more complex and ambiguous.




By the 1930s, another Austrian, Clemens Holzmeister, architect of the current Parliament building, had embarked on the construction of the General Staff, Ministry and High Court buildings in the district further south that would become known as Bakanlıklar ("The Ministries"). At the approach to this new administrative zone, he imagined a pink Ankara stone structure, incorporating several reliefs and statues. Completed in 1935, it is officially entitled the Güvenlik (Security) Monument, but also referred to as the Güven (Trust, Confidence) Monument.


The centre-piece, by Holzmeister's accomplished compatriot Anton Hanak, was originally to have been a modern family protected by the forces of law and order. But once again Ankara got more than it bargained for – in this case, two near-naked, giant, rounded, male individuals, possibly stepping out of ancient mythology, but sporting well-trimmed moustaches - and, in the case of the elder, a beard - and wielding reduced but modern-looking weapons. The theme is the satisfaction of the nation with its police and gendarmerie, who are depicted going about their business in reliefs to left and right.


Nazi connection


All this evokes güvenlik. However, the monument also bears the large inscription, Türk: Öğün, Calıs, Güven, exhorting Turks to take pride in themselves, work hard, and be confident. There are south-facing reliefs of the nation's farmers and professionals. And the surrounding park, now on a corner of Kızılay, is known as Güven Park.


The landmark has a controversial association with Josep Thorak, known (despite his troubled personal relations with the Nazis) as the sculptor of National Socialism. Many of Thorak's works in Europe were later destroyed. Upon Hanak’s death in 1934, Thorak contributed the reverse-side high-relief of Atatürk flanked by symbolic, homogeneous comrades. This happens to be Ankara's first statue of Ataturk in civilian attire. A cursory glance suggests a significant influence on subsequent portrayals.


Unequal treatment


Only pigeons have treated the Ulus and Kızılay monuments equally. While The Statue is in good shape after restoration in 2002, the Güven Anıtı is unlit and unrestored, crumbling and eroding, and marred by graffiti. The Victory Monument is the only one in Ankara which you are likely to see, even occasionally, being admired by tourists - or, for that matter, Turks. The Trust Monument is part of the furniture - there to be clambered on amid concerts or New Year celebrations. On its steps and around its ornamental pools, summer evenings are whiled (and even slept) away. Neither the anguished sculpted hands of Abdi Ipekçi Park nor the Human Rights Statue in Yüksel Caddesi - both meeting points of protestors and petitioners - can claim to be more "used".


Krippel's composition stands in Ankara's sole remaining recognisable "square". The square was created deliberately when the surrounding early modern offices were designed in 1947, and the entire composition was removed into it from the centre of the crossroads. The work of Hanak and Thorak began life in a park of its own, but the headlong development of Kızılay has left the park moth-eaten by encroaching concrete, bus-stops and police barriers.


Seventy years on


The second fifteen years of the Republic coincided with the design and construction of the Anıt Kabir, a monument par excellence, with Turkish artists in charge, working mainly in marble and stone. Sculptures of Atatürk spread across a country which otherwise found statues hard to accept. Ankara eventually acquired statues of other figures, including the Ottomans Mimar (Architect) Sinan (outside the Ankara University Language, History and Geography Faculty at Sıhhiye) and Mithat Paşa (outside Ziraat Bank in Ulus). Istanbul has no similar memorial to Sinan.


Most modern political leaders have merely had their names given to avenues and parks. Even İsmet İnönü only got his statue - well up the hill near the İnönü family home - in 1990. Sculptures of Atatürk in various roles multiplied again around 1980 (Parliament, Education Ministry, Agriculture Faculty) and again around 2000 (figures outside the Confederation of Small Traders and Artisans - TESK - and monument to Atatürk's entry into Ankara in Cankaya).


Alternative symbols


If all the capital's citizens are equal after Atatürk, perhaps its most appropriate statues are those of ordinary street traders and children scattered disconcertingly by an imaginative municipal administration of the 1990s. Most of these are now the worse for wear. Giant teapots, loaves of bread and still more fountains have since had their vogue.


One of Ankara's most striking symbols is the so-called Hittite Monument at Sıhiyye - in fact an outsize replica of an object found at a probable Hatti funeral site in Alacahöyük and preserved in the Museum of Ancient Civilisations. Manufactured in 1974, it occupies an ideal prime site at Ankara's centre of gravity, about 200 metres north of Victory Square. Its antlered beasts suggest locating national roots in ancient Anatolian soil, and have therefore been bitterly opposed in some quarters as pagan and/or un-Turkish. They appear to have weathered the storm. At the same time, they serve as a belated reminder that the art of sculpture has a long indigenous history in these parts.


(DIPLOMAT  -  July 2005  -  Ankara)