Rüstem Ertuğ Altınay (Wien): Archiving Loss and Desire. Queer Neo-Ottomanism in Reşad Ekrem Koçu’s Works

The formative years of the Republic of Turkey (1923-1938) were characterized by a centralized secular modernization and nation-building program. Like in many other nation-building projects, the Turkish government paid close attention to regulating, developing, and destroying the archives in the service of the official historiography paradigm. Reflecting the heritage of the Ottoman modernization and Europeanization efforts since the mid-nineteenth century, an important aspect of Turkey’s nation-building program was the heterosexualization of public culture. As their subjectivities came to be characterized by loss and erasure, queer intellectuals embarked on producing alternative archives. An important figure was the queer archivist and popular historian Reşad Ekrem Koçu (1905-1975). Koçu was an avid collector who publicized his private archive through publications in diverse genres, ranging from dictionaries and encyclopedias to biographies and novels. Reflecting his queer post-imperial melancholia, Koçu’s canon focuses on the history of everyday life and queer sexualities in the Ottoman Empire. Resisting the official historiographical narrative that defined the inception of the nation-state as a radical breach with the Empire, Koçu argued for a continuity. While the official historiographical discourse identified the Empire with backwardness and ignorance, Koçu’s woks presented it as an exciting land of curiosities, seething with queer pleasures. The author also resisted the heterosexualization of Ottoman society and history and requeered the Imperial past. My presentation will analyze how Koçu’s archival praxis both reflected and resisted the queer experience of loss, and how his works challenged the geographical, temporal, and sexual borders upon which the nation-state rested. I will discuss how Koçu’s queer postimperial melancholia gained new meanings as a conservative formulation of neo-Ottomanism emerged as Turkey’s new hegemonic historiography paradigm under the Sunni Islamist Justice and Development Party regime since 2002.