In Turkey, cultural policy is an important field of power, conflict, and transformation, especially in the process of nation-state building. Cultural management and heritage are crucial in every step of politics, from what can be accepted as a national heritage to which projects are supported and preserved by public funds. Although Turkey is a centralized country, one of the questions that can be asked at this point is why there is such a complex, changeable and entangled institutional structure associated with cultural assets and heritage?
Turkey is a unified state and governed by precise institutions. For example; all educational institutions up to university level are attached to the Ministry of National Education, whether private or public. These schools are supervised and monitored by the Ministry and must comply with the curricula set by the Ministry. In addition to that, all universities are also governed by a central higher education board, whether they are established through private or state resources. These central institutions are examples of official functioning of the state in line with the general administrative structure of Turkey.
Such a central institutional structure can also be expected for cultural institutions. However, there seems to be a more ambiguous institutional structure, applications, and overlapping positions. When we consider the cultural management here, we can discuss this situation through three fundamentally different institutions. They are, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the sub-unit of the Ministry – the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums,1 and the General Directorate of Foundations2 and the National Palace Administration.3
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is a central institution that is connected to most of the state museums and spread throughout the country with conservation boards and local branches. Since it is a ministry of tourism as well as culture, it can often be said that it is engaged in activities to increase the touristic value of the country. Also, when we mention cultural heritage and related institutions in Turkey, the General Directorate of Foundations should be kept in mind. This institution, which has its roots in the Ottoman Empire, is remarkable with its many cultural assets and heritage. At the same time, this institution works as the control and approval mechanism for all the foundations in the country and is also the founder and major partner of a nationwide bank.4
General directorate of foundations was attached to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism by the decree of the President in the summer of 2018, but its budget is separate.5 Although it is currently attached to the Ministry, the General Directorate of Foundations is a different body with its own assets and internal assembly as a management mechanism. It also draws attention to the official budget reports that it has more income than its expenditure.6 The General Directorate of Foundations, which owns many properties in the cultural heritage category and has the authority to oversee many foundations in the cultural field, can also be responsible for the restoration and operation of its own assets.
In the first phase of Work Package 6 (the qualitative research in heritage sites), this issue, which was brought to the agenda during the expert interviews, may cause ambiguity and bureaucratic confusion between the General Directorate of Foundations and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on cultural heritage policies and conservation (especially before being attached to the Ministry). The purpose of the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums is to protect cultural heritage and administrate museums. At the same time, a large amount of cultural assets is the property of the General Directorate of Foundations.
In addition to all these institutions, another organisation directly under the President of the Republic should be included in the discussion. This is the Department of National Palaces.7 This establishment, which was under parliamentary administration until the summer of 2018, is now directly bonded to the Presidency. There is also a separate museum unit within this institution, which can also make budget expenditures within itself.8 At this point, we can look at the complexity and entanglement between these institutions by looking at a recent decision.
Normally palaces should belong to the Department of Palaces. However, Topkapi Palace, apart from the other palaces, was attached to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism until 6 September 2019.9 As of September 6, it was connected to the National Palaces under the Presidency. Currently, Hagia Sophia, in the Historic Site of Istanbul, is affiliated to the Ministry of Culture as a museum. However, the museum in Topkapi Palace is connected to the National Palaces. Similar cases to these occur in many cultural management applications and practices.
In our interviews with experts on this subject, we learned that they also faced similar situations. One of the experts we interviewed was a member of the Conservation Board of the Ministry of Culture and another was a member of the UNESCO National Commission. Experts have also stated that an uncertain environment is created by the effects of these ambiguities and frequently changing laws in the jurisdictions of institutions.
Why does this uncertainty exist in a country that is so centrally managed and where the central régime is generally accepted? This is one of the issues to be examined. It seems that even the change in the revenues of some institutions is an important factor. For example, Topkapi Palace was the most visited heritage site in 2018. Almost 3 million people visited the site in 2018.10 This figure is more than 10 percent of the total number of people visiting the museums and historical sites of the Ministry of Culture. Such uncertainties in the management of cultural assets may be seen as a way of making direct budget transfers in a short period of time. Again, with regard to the economy, this uncertain situation seems to allow for the use of cultural assets for an economic return.
On the other hand, some cultural heritage sites are directly rented and leased for non-cultural, educational and art-related initiatives. There are restoration projects that are not done properly. This has caused the areas that need to be protected and must be restored according to the rules, to be turned into income-generating properties. In this context; uncertainty in cultural management has enabled such initiatives to be carried out without attention.
As a result, uncertainties of authority and frequent amendments to administrative laws on institutions have led to making improper decisions on cultural assets unobtrusively. The ambiguous, complex bureaucratic and entangled governance structure of the internationally known areas, which are under the auspices of an international institution such as UNESCO,11 may be used as a management strategy for the implementation of improper practices.
About the author:
S. Buğra Kurban received his B.A. in sociology from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (İstanbul, Turkey). Currently, he is continuing his graduate study at the Department of Sociology, Boğaziçi University (İstanbul, Turkey). Also, he is a research assistant at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. His research interests lie in the area of urban studies, ethnography and research methods in social sciences, and social change.