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Sensing and resisting the colonial port in Istanbul in Leonard Woolf and Halide Edib’s writing
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CitationHaliloğlu, N. (2019). Sensing and resisting the colonial port in Istanbul in Leonard Woolf and Halide Edib’s writing. CPAGH Conference, Oxford, May 2019.
This is a polemical paper about how a city may be perceived in different registers, and how ‘the colonial port city’ becomes a spectre that haunts port cities that are not colonial in a strict sense. Istanbul will serve as an example how occupied cities are sensed as colonial cities, particularly when the occupier, in this case Britain, has a colonial past. I will look at texts that test out Istanbul’s status as a colonial port city: Leonard Woolf’s The Future of Constantinople, and Halide Edib’s Shirt of Flame and The Turkish Ordeal. While Woolf sets out a plan for Istanbul to become a free port, modeled on his experiences of Ceylon as a colonial port city, the local author and activist Halide Edib pushes against this, all the while aware of the colonial resonances that a British occupation brings. The Future of Constantinople is set out as an anti-war tract: Woolf pits internationalism against cosmopolitanism, arguing for an international body to rule Istanbul. According to Woolf, Constantinople is the stage where internationalism should at last beat imperialism, through the exclusion of Turks from Bosphorus, and physically locating them elsewhere. His is a capitalist reading, indeed, sensing of the Bosphorus where the city itself is obliterated, and becomes the strait that should facilitate the transportation of goods. A supposedly anti-imperial vision of the future founded on the exclusion of local subjectivities, reiterating a colonial grammar. According to Woolf, Constantinople should be the city that should cease to live and breathe and be stripped down to its economic activity, so that all other European cities should live in peace- a vision of the colonial city. This approach is not lost Halide Edib who reads the behavior of the occupying allies as colonial officers in her memoir The Turkish Ordeal and her novel Shirt of Flame. I argue that Halide Edib, by invoking the spectre of a colonial port city, uses her writing as a call to arms to prevent Woolf’s vision for Istanbul from becoming reality.